Reconnecting online during COVID-19 lockdown: Negotiating creativity and leadership in online music gatherings

Dr Anthea Skinner1, Dr Grace Thompson1, Prof Katrina Skewes-McFerran1, Dr Teresa Hall1

1University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

This paper discusses the participation of people with intellectual disability in an online music group during Melbourne’s extended COVID-19 lockdown. The Sing It Out Loud group was formed as part of a study exploring using online technologies to support social inclusion and wellbeing. As the group was open to people with all disability types, we focussed on ensuring that all members found the experience accessible. This paper discusses on the experiences of three group members with intellectual disability, and the creative and social leadership they demonstrated.

This study positioned group participants as co-researchers, recognising their lived experiences. We adopted an action research framework in which participants provided ongoing reflections on the use of technology, access, musical foci and social interaction to iteratively evolve the sessions through cycles of reflexive action. These data were triangulated with data collected through participant observation and individual interviews.

The structured format required by the online setting promoted members’ independence and decision-making abilities to shape the group to meet their needs. Although they required initial technological support, the three members with intellectual disability became central to group decision making, leading many activities.

Based on past experiences, the authors had anticipated that participants with intellectual disabilities may find their voices marginalised in a mixed-disability group. However, the prior experience that our three members with intellectual disability had in participating in community groups, music making and online communication; combined with the structured group setting, meant that they quickly became central to the group’s creative identity.


Anthea Skinner has PhD in musicology and is a research associate at the University of Melbourne studying disability music culture and participation. Anthea is disabled and previously worked as a journalist for Link Disability Magazine and Ramp Up. She also plays percussion in the Bearbrass Asylum Orchestra.