All Disabled people deserve the access and support to realise their musical ambitions

Kris Halpin is a musician, who performs under the stage name Dyskinetic. He mainly performs using Mi.Mu Gloves, which are wearable instruments that allow you to make music with hand gestures. They were originally developed by Grammy Award-winning musician Imogen Heap.

With his MiMu Gloves, Kris has achieved huge success as a touring and recording artist. As a musician with cerebral palsy, he has also been at the forefront of conversations about music and Disability. (Kris uses a capital D in Disabled as he uses identity-first language, and identifies as Disabled.)

This week, he joins Sense as our new Artistic Director of Music. In this blog, he explains how music has transformed his life, and why he’s passionate about bringing the same experiences to others. 

Kris Halpin, a white bearded man in a wheelchair, playing the guitar.

Music has always been my way of translating my feelings via my imagination. From a very early age I had a feeling that I wanted to articulate, and music felt like my way to do that. 

I felt like I could explain how I felt through music, and I believe everyone deserves that experience.

Alongside my artistic career, I’ve spent years making music more accessible to Disabled people. 

I’ve been delivering and ultimately leading inclusion strategies at both national and international level, and I’ve worked with some of the world’s biggest brands to improve Disabled people’s opportunities to engage with music.

Music has always been a vital part of my life

I was a very early starter to music. My dad plays guitar, and my mom – whilst not a musician – is an avid music fan with an eclectic taste. 

“I want to amplify the voices – literally and figuratively – of a community of Disabled people who for too long have not been included in society’s idea of what music is.”

I grew up in a household surrounded by music, and my sense of who I am was really shaped by music.

Today, I want to support other Disabled people to realise their musical ambitions. 

Sometimes when people think about musical ambition, they think in terms of very measurable “successes”  – a record deal, a viral hit – but those things aren’t really what ambition is to me. 

Musical ambition is something very personal and intimate. I’ve performed in front of thousands in some of the world’s most prestigious venues, but as wonderful as that is, it’s not as life-affirming as creating new music that really captures a feeling inside me.

My ambition is served in those little moments in my studio or rehearsal, and those magical moments can be felt by anyone if the conditions are right. 

Disabled musicians face so many barriers to doing what they love

Kris Halpin, a bearded man in a wheelchair, speaking with another man who is playing guitar.

I’ve been very fortunate in my career, but I’ve faced huge barriers along the way. 

I’ve had a very Instagrammable career in recent years, travelling the world, working with some of my musical heroes. 

But as I often remind people, social media doesn’t show the opportunities I never took because they weren’t accessible to me. 

I turn down lots of things, too – I recently had to cancel a tour due to access concerns. 

When I mentor young Disabled artists, I hear the same stories. There is a fundamental disconnect that means the musical landscape does not accurately represent nor accommodate Disabled people.

I’m thrilled to work with Sense to show that music is for everyone

My journey to Sense began with a trip to Japan where I spent a day with music leaders from Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and young people with complex Disabilities. The joy and beauty we found together, all of us making music, was something I’ll never forget. 

It made me think seriously about how I could impact more people. 

I wanted to find a new role with a trusted large organisation to have the kind of impact I wanted. So I was thrilled when I found out about this position: it was the right role, serving the right people, arriving at just the right time. 

I want to create inclusive opportunities that have a fresh, dynamic energy to them. 

I’m motivated by movements such as #WeShallNotBeRemoved and the Cripplepunk aesthetic – which reclaims an ableist slur as the name of a youth movement, where Disability is reimagined as a stylish sense of identity.

I want to amplify the voices – literally and figuratively – of a community of Disabled people who for too long have not been included in society’s idea of what music is. 

Every community deserves great art and music that they can recognise themselves in. For too long, Disabled people have been denied that space. 

I’m here to disrupt those tiresome barriers, and show that music really is for everyone.

Try a musical activity at home

Sense has a range of musical activities suitable for people with complex disabilities to try online.