As individuals who are blind, it is necessary for us to seek accommodations and adaptations and ask for help from time to time. We all probably remember the moments when strangers have gone up to us, asking “what’s wrong with your eye?”, “do you need help?”, praying for our eyesight to be restored, or just anything else that shows a lack of understanding of what our true capabilities and limitations are. These occurrences can be quite annoying, but I do understand and am happy to explain the truth to those who wish to learn.
There is one major group of people who have shown an excellent understanding of what my needs are as a blind person. Namely, the people who have been involved in my music lesson and ensemble activities over the years, including my private lesson instructors, ensemble directors and various coaches and adjudicators who have worked with me in one capacity or another.
I have been blind since birth, and music has always been a big part of my life. I have loved music since I could remember, and thus I began my journey as a dedicated classical musician with piano lessons at age four. Since then, my involvement in music performance has increased dramatically. I picked up the violin at age seven, viola at twelve (which is very similar to the violin by the way), and have been happily playing all three ever since. Over the years, I became more and more involved in ensemble playing, playing in both orchestras and small chamber ensembles of three to six people. For the past ten years, I took all my private lessons and ensemble classes at a Music Academy, and I was not involved in any other music classes outside the Music Academy. All the teachers and students who took classes with me got used to my needs. I was treated just like anyone else was treated. However, my parents or my brother were almost always around to assist me when I needed help going to a different room or retrieving my baggage. Occasionally, a teacher or another student would help me when my parents or my younger brother weren’t around, but those situations were relatively sparse.
This summer was different. For the first time ever, I attended a string quartet Day Camp in early July that was completely unrelated to the Music Academy I attend for lessons and classes. The camp lasted six days, and each day I had four hours of rehearsals and coachings, and there was a final concert at the end. One friend from the Music Academy attended the camp with me, but it had nothing to do with my visual impairment. Other than that, all the participants and staff at the camp were entirely new to me. This also happened to be the first time where my parents would play a smaller role in my participation at camp. My Dad’s only role was driving me to and from camp. Otherwise, I participated in the camp fully independently, relying on my fellow participants and staff for help when I needed it with no assistance from family members.
Heading into Camp, I knew I would have a good time. However, my parents were concerned about how I would navigate the new location without their assistance. Whenever I did rehearsals at the music school, I was in a familiar location and I was well oriented to the building, but this time, the rehearsals took place at an entirely unfamiliar location. I was a little unsure how the participants and staff would treat me. Turns out, they treated me like they’d treat any other student. Everyone knew me as a capable person and musician and recognized what I could do independently, and helped me when I asked for it or they saw me need it. When I needed help carrying my baggage or heading to a different room, I always had the opportunity to give permission to let them help me out and I was never forced into being helped by anyone. As a result, I felt really included and I really felt that I was on the same playing field as my sighted peers. Plus, the particular group of musicians I was playing with were also a good musical match as well which made the experience so much better.
I’d like to thank all my music teachers, coaches and directors for being so accommodating and understanding of what my needs really are. Instrumental ensemble is one of those activities where I can really participate with sighted people on an equal level and not feel that blindness is a barrier. I have had many people, including students, friends, adjudicators and coaches who have just met me inquire about how I learn my music and things like that. I have run into a case years ago where an adjudicator at a competition called me out for not getting on stage alone, but those cases have been extremely rare and I am forever grateful.