Meet an IAS Collaborative: Fostering Understanding and Promoting Inclusion for Individuals with Disabilities


Meet the IAS Research and Creative Collaborative “Fostering Understanding and Promoting Inclusion for Individuals with Disabilities.” 

Yue Wu, Rehabilitation Medicine, Medical School
Philip Shorey, Independent Composer

While some IAS Collaboratives do the sort of work that is groundbreaking but slow, quiet, and research- and collaboration heavy, the work Yue Wu and Philip Shorey had in mind was exactly the opposite. Their goal: to develop a performance piece illuminating the experience of people with disabilities using music and storytelling. Their challenge: to collaborate broadly. Their team includes members from the University of Minnesota Medical School, Center for Allied Health Programs, Institute on Community Integration, School of Music, and other community stakeholders from Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and MacPhail Center for Music.

The idea for the event—called Light in the Well, after the idea of shining a light into an experience that may otherwise feel cold, dark, and lonely—began in 2018. Yue Wu began building relationships, talking with the composer, and finding families to serve as presenters the following year. Over that time, the group grew to a group of approximately thirty others—from musicians to visual artists to web designers. The onset of COVID meant the program needed to be pushed back a year, but on October 3, 2021, the team was at last able to present its first major event to an audience of just over 120 attendees at the MacPhail Center for Music.




IAS: Tell us about the event, Light in the Well—what did you hope to achieve, who was it for? How did the audience respond to the event?

Yue Wu: Light in the Well is a multi-sensory event, using music as the storyteller to honor people with disabilities and their families, sharing their stories, and spreading hope to others who are on the same journey. Four featured families performed on stage with a professional live orchestra at the MacPhail Center for Music. (Explore and recap the program notes here.


The mission of Light in the Well is to transform lives and influence culture through exceptional music experiences that inspire and connect people with and without developmental disabilities. We hope the first show was a conversation starter to prompt people to think about who are the ones in their lives who have visible or invisible disabilities that they can get to know more. Moving forward, we hope to have more events to bring people with and without disabilities together, to make music, have fun, and share life with one another.

The audience’s responses were overwhelming. Many people cried and stated that they were touched in a deep way. The audience felt they saw a glimpse of what it is like to have a child with disabilities and felt they were partaking in the performance instead of just watching. 

IAS: The event brought together a number of different partners—from the University, from McPhail, the community, elsewhere. Tell us more about these partnerships. How have you formed these collaborations? Why are these different collaborators important to the work you are doing?

YW: Through participating in different projects, study, research, and work, I met people who are creative and have a heart for people with disabilities. The composer of Light in the Well has a background of film scoring, which is perfect for the purpose of using music to portray characters. Three out of the four featured families in Light in the Well are my clients at MacPhail. I met Nathan through a class that I took at the UMN. And he was the guest speaker! People who are involved from the University are the ones that I met through my PhD career (advisor, committee member, professor, and fellow students). I work as a music therapist at MacPhail and they provided great support throughout the project, including providing the venue, more than half of the musicians, and platform for our fundraising. 

These different collaborators are important to the work because they offer a variety of expertise and bring different life and emotional journeys into Light in the Well. Moreover, the compassion and commitment they demonstrated in the project added so much more to Light in the Well. To watch the featured families work through challenges and fight obstacles right in front of our eyes really enriched our lives and taught us how we can better support each other.


Light in the Well dancers Nathan Bauer and Ivory Doublette perform on October 3, 2021.


IAS: What was your favorite moment of the event?

YW: It’s absolutely heartwarming to see the persons with disabilities that I work with shine and blossom on the stage. At the end of the performance, our youngest featured individual started to cry because she didn’t want the performance to be over. I started to sing the song we wrote together in our sessions to calm her down. It took only 4 lines down the song that she was completely calm. The power of music was displayed right in front of the audience.

IAS: What’s next for the Collaborative?

YW: Our next performance is scheduled on October 16th, 2022, at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. We plan to invite local disability organizations to share about their resources and services at the event. Currently, we are making a documentary regarding music therapy and the featured families. We are also actively editing the recording of this year’s performance. Please follow us on Facebook and Instagram for information about the release date!

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