Why do some music teachers with sight find it hard to work with someone who is blind or vision impaired, but it is not hard for a blind or vision impaired music teacher to work with someone who is sighted.
What are they scared of or worried about? Could it be that they are thinking how he or she can see what I’m doing or could they be worried about whether he or she can even see the material that is provided to them or if it is in the correct format to help them. I used to worry about this, as well as whether or not to tell students beforehand that I am blind, thinking that they won’t want to come to lessons.
What encouraged me to overcome my challenges was comments from workshop participants, such as: “it’s sort of been two-way learning”, “he’s got to learn to teach us while we’re learning from him”, and comments from a leader who taught me who said that I don’t need to tell people about my eyesight because they want to learn the ukulele and that it should not matter.
The strategy that I use when I teach a student includes providing them with some rules, such as not to use any visual cues when communicating with me. They must say yes or no rather than nod or shake their head if they don’t understand what I’m saying.
The other types of strategies I use are getting the students to repeat back what I am saying and what I am showing them. This gives me an understanding that they are learning from me. I also provide my students with documentation on what I am teaching them and I also ask my students what other formats they would like the information sent to them in, for example email, text message or audio file.
Imagine that I have up to eight people at the one time in a ukulele workshop. How can I remember everybody’s names and their location in the room? These are challenges that I also face but I find ways to work around it by using adaptive technology such as recording people’s voices and names when performing an exercise around the room, or I would have people say their names when they are asking a question.
What do I do if there is a participant in my workshop who is having more difficulties and is not keeping up? The strategies that I would use for this includes asking the students to encourage each other and to help each other out. If it looks like someone needs a hand, this is a great way for people to interact with each other and learn with each other by having that person sit beside somebody who is learning well. Another option is to chat with them afterwards and ask them if they would like a few private lessons, as some people find it better to learn in a group environment and some find it easier to learn in a private environment at their own pace and at their own time.
Another strategy I would use when passing around documents for people to learn in my workshops is to spread them out on the table and have people take from them or pass them around to each other.
Not everyone can read chord charts, so in this situation I would write out the chord charts in text instead of image, for example when teaching a finger position, I would write C-major: put your third finger on the third fret of the A string. I have found this method to work quite well with people who are blind or vision impaired because if they have adaptive technology such as a screen reader, it will read the text to them, as opposed to chord charts that cannot be read by screen readers. Unfortunately, there are a lot of music books that are not accessible for screen readers.
If you are a guitar or ukulele teacher and you want to teach people chords and lyrics, the best book I have come across so far is named 250+ Ukulele Songbooks. See the example of song lyrics and chords in accessible formats at my resource page or for another accessible format explaining chords this way, click to listen to Ukulele MP3.
When I was studying TAFE’s Certificate III in Music in 2010, a teacher was showing me how to do guitar chords, but by the way he was showing me he must have thought that I could see his fingers or that I could recognise the notes he was playing in the chords. Not everyone has such an ear for music, but they are still capable of teaching others. The teacher was asking if I could see his fingers instead of explaining which position and strings his fingers were on. I felt this was a waste of time.
On one occasion, I wanted to study a unit which was also part of the course named Sound Editing, and instead of allowing me do that unit and trying other methods, the teacher automatically assumed that the screen reader would not work with sound editing software, without even attempting it. As a result, I was unable to complete some units in this course. A few years later I contacted another campus to complete these units after researching some software which would allow me to complete them at home. The software I found was GarageBand for the Apple Mac. It worked well as it has a built-in screen reader, but the funniest thing was that the computer I was supposed to be taught on was also a Mac, which shows that the teacher did not have enough awareness of the softwares available to him.
For me to get to where I am today, I had to face society’s misconceptions head on. While doing this I thought of various methods that worked best for me as a vision impaired ukulele teacher. You never stop learning new skills. If you are a music mentor and would like to talk more about accessible formats for your students, you are welcome to either contact me or send me an email and I will gladly speak with you.
I teach ukulele privately, online, or as group workshops. For more info please visit my website.
Author: Phillip Chalker