Fair access guidelines for candidates with physical restrictions or disabilities

These guidelines contain information for candidates with a range of physical restrictions or disabilities. For convenience we use the term ‘physical disabilities’ throughout these guidelines to cover a wide range of conditions including:

  • Candidates with one hand
  • Candidates with one or more fingers missing on either or both hands
  • Candidates with syndactyly (joined or fused fingers)
  • Candidates with brachydactyly (shortened fingers)
  • Candidates with dystonias, trigger finger or essential tremors.
  • Candidates with restricted growth

Before reading these guidelines, we recommend you also read our Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments Policy, which can be found at www.abrsm.org/specificneeds.

You should review the information in these guidelines before making an exam entry.

If you have questions or specific requirements that are not covered by these guidelines, please contact ABRSM’s Access Coordinator.

It is important to understand that while we are able to make provisions for the administration of the exam, e.g. extra time or alternative tests, we are not able to make any concessions in the marking – all candidates will be treated equally.

Please make sure you select the most relevant access provision on the entry form.

It is important that you select the relevant access provision for each exam even if you have requested access arrangements or reasonable adjustments previously.

If none of the access provisions cover your specific needs or you have questions about the reasonable adjustments to which you are entitled, please contact ABRSM’s Access Coordinator as early as possible before the entry deadline.

Please note that ABRSM is unable to provide reasonable adjustments where we are notified after the exam entry has been made.

In order to grant reasonable adjustments, ABRSM requires appropriate supporting evidence. Please refer to our Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments Policy for further information.

You are welcome to supply any further information you think it would be helpful for the examiner to know in advance.

We aim to be as flexible as possible to meet candidates’ specific needs. For this reason, we do not have a fixed set of arrangements for candidates with specific physical disabilities. In the sections below, we outline what options are most commonly requested.

Rest breaks

We are able to add extra time so that you can take rest breaks during your exam. This is usually up to five minutes for Practical exams. This can be taken as several short breaks, or as a longer break at any point during the exam.

Step-free access

If you use a wheelchair, have mobility difficulties or require step-free access to the exam room, please contact us so that we can make sure the exam centre you have selected is accessible. We shall add five minutes of general extra time to your exam to allow you to get into the exam room and ready to perform without feeling rushed.

Minor alterations to pieces

If you have one hand, or missing fingers on one or both hands, you may need to make some alterations to the published exam pieces, for example altering the voicing of chords, spreading chords, missing notes out from a chord or moving a passage to a different octave. You may also need to consider the requirements for the Scales and arpeggios, where applicable. Any alterations should be as minimal as possible and not substantially alter the musical effect of the original.

How to request these adjustments

It is important to discuss this kind of alteration with ABRSM before making an exam entry.

Before entering, you should email scans of your pieces clearly showing the proposed alterations to [email protected] as soon as possible. Our Learning & Qualifications team will then review these and make suggestions if necessary. Please select the appropriate provision on the entry form.

You should take a copy of your music to hand to the examiner.

Alterations to the Scales and arpeggios

If you are not able to play every type of scale over the full range or with the required articulation, we will take this into account where possible and suggest alternatives. Where a scale is physically impossible, such as a contrary motion scale for a one-handed pianist, this will not be requested.

Extra time to prepare the Sight-reading test

Where you are not able to use the suggested or implied fingering in order to be able to play the Sight-reading test, we shall offer up to two minutes preparation time. We shall provide the test on a separate piece of paper to enable you to mark in your own fingerings in pencil. You should bring your own pencil to the exam. Once these alterations have been confirmed, please select the most appropriate provision when making your entry.

Use of adapted instruments

We welcome the use of instruments adapted for people with physical disabilities including

  • instruments designed to be played with one hand
  • instruments used with a bespoke stand or support
  • pedal extensions for pianos.

The One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust has further information about instruments adapted for people with physical disabilities.

Pedalling difficulties for pianists

If your disability means you have difficulty using the pedals, you should consider repertoire where this will have limited impact. From around Grade 5 and beyond, pedalling is expected and it will become increasingly difficult to communicate the composer’s intentions without use of the pedal.

You are welcome to supply further information specific to your difficulties and we shall pass this to the examiner.

In addition, we can assist with information on pedal extensions and adaptations that may allow you to operate the pedal with some other part of the body. We are happy to consider the use of any such adaptation as long as it is easily portable and easily fitted, and if this is not the case we will happily discuss alternative arrangements.

As most pedal adaptations are designed to work with electronic keyboards rather than pianos, we are happy to consider arrangements for you to take the exam on an electronic keyboard. The electronic keyboard should meet the requirements outlined in our piano syllabus at www.abrsm.org/our-exams.


If you are unable to access printed material or write down your answers, you may use an amanuensis to act as a reader, a scribe, or both. Please review the information in our guidelines for candidates using an amanuensis.

If you require an amanuensis, you must select the relevant access provision on the entry form and email supporting documentation to [email protected].

Rest breaks

Rest breaks up to a maximum of 20 minutes each hour of the exam

You should raise your hand and notify the invigilator when you wish to take a rest break from your paper. The invigilator will then take the exam paper away. The invigilator will also note the time of the break on a sheet of paper. When you are ready to resume the exam, you should let the invigilator know, and the invigilator will return your paper and note the length of the break that has been taken.

If you wish to use this time to leave the room then this is possible in line with any candidate wishing to have a comfort break to use the toilet facilities.

If we cannot meet your needs within the graded exam system, you may wish to take the Performance Assessment.

In this assessment, you can play your own choice of repertoire and will receive a written report containing constructive comments and advice from an examiner.

There is no pass or fail for this assessment, and no assessment criteria. You should include a written statement with the entry detailing your specific needs (this is essential if the candidate is under 18) so that the information can be passed on to the examiner.

Contact Information


Access Coordinator
4 London Wall Place
T +44 (0) 20 7467 7342
E [email protected]

The One Handed Musical Instrument Trust (OHMI)


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