I’ve been a singer since I was in high school. As the front person in a band, it was my responsibility to create the focus. Stage presence is just as important to a performance as the music itself. I would dance around the stage, sometimes stepping off it to engage with the audience. It was much easier to interact with an audience when I didn’t need to use a wheelchair. Becoming disabled at age 20 didn’t take away any dreams of being a performer. I had never wanted to perform professionally, as it was just a hobby while I went to school and had my career planned out.
How Singing Helped Me Cope
After my surgeries, complications and onset of chronic illnesses, all my career goals were destroyed. Performing music wasn’t a job or even a goal to me. It’s just what I did to stay positive through the pain and grief. Performing, especially in front of a live audience with positive energy, gives me more serotonin than anything else.
Accessibility in the Philadelphia Music Scene
I live in Philadelphia, so there are lots of open mics and great music scenes. As a musician, it was awesome, but as a wheelchair user, there are lots of problems. Most local music venues are not wheelchair accessible. For those that are, the entrance is through the band loading area (usually in a sketchy back alley). These entrances also tend to be cluttered with lots of obstacles. So, while able people can just step over the giant trash bags filled with beer bottles, the bags get stuck in our wheels and damage our chairs.
Even the venues that are accessible in some way still have alternate upstairs and downstairs stages. So, if you’re coming for an open mic, you need to make sure that it’s happening on a night when they’ve decided to be inclusive.
I’ve performed for 10 years in this city as a wheelchair user. None of the stages I’ve performed at (aside from the disability community and college events), are wheelchair accessible. I need to go down in front of the stage to perform. In a power wheelchair, you’re already at a lower height than your standing audience. So, without even a stage, you are completely hidden. I’m tired of people coming up to me after a set and saying: “I heard you singing, but I didn’t see anyone onstage so I thought it was a recording. Then I realized you’re just down there in a wheelchair.”
Singing with My iLevel Power Wheelchair
In the future, all venues and stages must be wheelchair accessible. I have not performed to a live audience since the pandemic, but I will be back when I am ready to be. I am very much looking forward to the visibility that iLevel on my Stretto Power Wheelchair will give me both on and off stage. I also look forward to not having to wait for someone to lower the mic stand for me when it’s time for me to perform. Currently, I practice in my apartment. iLevel technology helps me visualize the knobs on my cube street amp so I’m finally able to adjust my volume, backtracks, and effects all by myself.
Anomie Fatale: Anomie is a musician who performs at shows and open mic nights in Philadelphia. She is the current titleholder for Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania USA 2022 and is passionate about helping others. Click here to learn more about Anomie.
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