International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Barry Farrimond MBE

World disability day provides us all with an opportunity to promote the rights of disabled people across the globe; it reminds us of the incredible contributions that disabled people make to each and every area of our societies; and it also prompts us to consider the change that’s still required to enable everyone to meet their potential.

For example, thanks to the work of some fabulous organisations over the years, there are now more disabled people composing, playing and enjoying music than ever before. But although it’s often said that music is the universal language, a great many disabled people continue to be left out of the conversation.

The National Open Youth Orchestra is the world’s first disabled-led national youth orchestra. We have a very simple mission, to ensure that orchestras are accessible to young disabled people. In 2013, we launched what we believe to be the UK's first three special school orchestras through our “Open Orchestras” programme.

Since that time, in partnership with Bristol Music Trust, Sage Gateshead, Mac Birmingham and a range of Music Education Hubs, we’ve established 25 Open Orchestras that stretch all the way from Truro to Tyneside. Through working together we’ve helped more than 250 of the most marginalised young people experience the joy of playing in an orchestra for the first time.

Many of the young musicians we work with find accessing a conventional musical instrument to be extremely challenging. The vast majority of musical instruments have been designed to be played with two hands and ten very dexterous fingers. If you can’t use your hands or fingers, all too often you are prevented from having your say in the “universal language”.

Bradley Warwick is a young musician who, until recently, was a member of an Open Orchestra at a school in Stroud. Bradley has cerebral palsy that affects all of his limbs. This makes playing a conventional instrument all but impossible for him.

Since 2012, we’ve been developing a new, accessible musical instrument called the Clarion - an instrument that can be played with any part of the body, including the eyes. Bradley was given access to the Clarion through Open Orchestras, and with the aid of his Eyegaze computer and quite a lot of hard graft, he learnt to play the Clarion to an incredibly high standard using his eyes.

Bradley was desperate for opportunities to progress in music, but unfortunately, those opportunities are very few and far between for young disabled people. So, in September 2015, we launched the UK's only disabled-led, regional youth orchestra - the South-West Open Youth Orchestra.

Bradley joined 15 other young musicians to became a founding member of this ground-breaking ensemble. He’s now had the opportunity to perform at Bristol Cathedral, Colston Hall, and live on a Radio 3 broadcast for BBC Music Day. Earlier this year, with Bradley’s help, the South-West Open Youth Orchestra won a much-coveted award from the Royal Philharmonic Society.

Without the South-West Open Youth Orchestra, Bradley would not have had the opportunity to share his talent with the world. And there are young people like him across the country who continue to be denied that opportunity. This World Disability Day we are highlighting the fact that no one should be excluded from making music in an orchestra if they want to!

The National Open Youth Orchestra provides an accessible musical progression route, supporting the development of some of the UK’s most talented young disabled people. In the last few weeks we’ve announced a new partnership with the Barbican Centre, The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Bristol Music Trust and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to bring this programme into the lives of many more young musicians.

From January we’ll be looking for more musicians to join the National Open Youth Orchestra for the next part of its journey in London and the South East.

The National Open Youth Orchestra is about empowering young disabled musicians so they can radically redefine the idea of ‘The Orchestra’ – inspiring new musical instruments and creating new musical forms for the 21st century. If you are aged between 11 and 25, have an unquenchable passion for music, but currently experience barriers to playing in a youth ensemble, get in touch at

Barry Farrimond MBE

This blog was first published on 3 December 2017.

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