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The one-handed drummer who found his perfect partner

9 July 2019 at 4:51 pm
Luke Michael
It had been nine years since drummer Bryan Carey had last performed on stage. But playing his first gig since being diagnosed with a brain tumour, he felt completely at home.

Luke Michael | 9 July 2019 at 4:51 pm


The one-handed drummer who found his perfect partner
9 July 2019 at 4:51 pm

It had been nine years since drummer Bryan Carey had last performed on stage. But playing his first gig since being diagnosed with a brain tumour, he felt completely at home.

Bryan’s brain tumour caused him to lose mobility and left him unable to drum, his passion and livelihood of 30 years.

But after becoming more flexible about the way he approached the drum kit, he learned to play again with an adaptable method – whether that means using all four limbs or just one.

“I couldn’t believe how natural it felt for me to be on stage playing with the band again,” Bryan told Pro Bono News.

“It was at that moment I realised this is what I need to be doing with my life because it feels right. It feels natural.”      

But his return to the stage was not as simple as re-learning to play the drums.

Bryan’s reduced mobility meant he needed someone to transport, set-up and maintain his equipment.

He needed a disability support worker, but not the traditional kind.

He needed a drum tech.

Unfortunately for Bryan, standard recruitment services connect people with disability to general support workers who often cannot provide personalised goal-oriented support.

To combat this, National Disability Services is running a pilot project, funded by the NDIS Sector Development Fund, which recruits support staff for specific roles rather than general support.

The pilot connected Bryan with a drum tech ­– Marco – who has helped him return to professional drumming.

The pair have developed a strong bond that goes beyond a professional relationship.

“Not only is Marco a great drum tech, he has also become a very close friend,” Bryan said.

“That’s something which is very important to me.”

Bryan said it was important people with disability had access to support workers who catered to their individual needs.

He said Marco had the technical understanding of drumming but also the skills to work well with people.

The disability sector has struggled in recent years to attract new workers, while the majority of existing workers are older Anglo-Australian women, and therefore not as diverse as the clients they help.

During the trial, people with disability identify the goal they want achieved and then advertise for a specific role.

For example, a young person with disability who wants to learn to play in a local football team could advertise for a football coach/mentor, who would be better equipped to help them learn the sport than a general support worker.

Wendy Prowse, co-chair of NDS’ Workforce Impact Collective – which is helping run the pilot across the ACT – said the project proved how much more can be achieved when people with disability have greater control over the kind of support they receive.

“Recruiting personalised support that is based on shared interests between a person with a disability and the individual who will be supporting them is allowing people like Bryan to really pursue their goals,” Prowse said.

“Other participants are working towards their own unique goals, such as competitive rowing, now that they have the appropriate support: a rowing coach rather than a general support worker. 

“There can be no one-size-fits-all approach to support work.”

For Bryan, having someone like Marco to support him has been vital to his professional comeback.

“As I found out recently, you can get people that will assist you to move the drums and set them up, which I find quite difficult to do,” he said,

“It means I know now I can do these things, I just need a different way of looking at it. I’m just as capable, but maybe in a different way.”

Although Bryan has achieved his goal of putting a band together and performing again, he said is still taking each day as it comes.

“As much as I do have long-term goals I want to achieve through music, I’ve got to make sure I take things one day at a time,” he said.

“I’ve been able to put a really good band together and things are looking very promising for the rest of the year. I just have to work as hard as I can and be optimistic about the future.” 

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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