Musician Casey Harris on Performing With a Visual Disability
Advocacy The X Ambassadors keyboardist discusses his thriving music career and his position as an advocate for blind musicians.
How has your visual disability shaped your music career?
As far as I can tell you, the biggest two aspects are touring and production — that’s always been a bit of a challenge. I’ve been very fortunate that it hasn’t actually impacted that aspect of my musical career that much, thanks to my bandmates and my brother.
But the other major aspect is that I’m really involved in the production in the band. The more classical production software and technology has obstacles that are very non-blind friendly. That impacts my ability to produce the same quality of music as other artists because I’m not able to manipulate the software in quite the same way. I’ve been able to work with magnification software to work around that. But it’s becoming more and more evident to me and a lot of visually impaired people that one of the hang-ups is dealing with modern software. Nothing is tactile. Everything is on a computer screen, not a slider or button anymore.
Do you think there will be innovations or developments alongside that to balance out the playing field? Or will we need a bit more time to see that accessibility?
It’s hard to say, actually. I think technology is progressing and is so adaptive these days.
When I was growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, there were very limited resources. Most software didn’t have adaptive technology. The early smartphones didn’t have any adaptive technology. Now, any piece of tech you pick up will have magnification or screen readers. But years ago, none of it really emphasized magnification for people with low vision. There isn’t really an obvious way to integrate the music software or synthesizers because what’s on the market currently is so graphic-heavy. I think for the blind and visually impaired community, a lot of individuals out there are finding their own work-arounds.
What are some of the biggest strengths you’ve gained from touring with a visual disability or navigating NYC with a visual disability? How have you grown in a positive way from these challenges and milestones?
That’s something that I’ve thought about a lot. A lot of this is related to getting older as well. I’m really confident in knowing what I like to do, what I enjoy doing and what I don’t. I think in my early 20s I was so miserable that I couldn’t go out to clubs and do the normal things other people would do. My experience going to a club would be standing in a corner and not only being unable to see but also unable to hear because of the music. There was a time where I was really resentful of that, especially in New York which has such a going-out culture. It’s a very loud environment, and I think that’s fine, but I also discovered that it’s just not something I enjoy doing. I no longer feel like I’m missing out because I can’t do it, but because it’s not something that I enjoy doing in the first place. Having a disability forces you to realize and embrace the things you like and don’t like faster than you would otherwise.
Why is it so important to be talking about this and advocating for people with disabilities?
Right now, we see clearly that minorities of all kind are struggling in today’s world. And people with disabilities are the smallest of minorities. There’s a lot of people with disabilities in the United States, but the numbers are a smaller percentage of the population. I think that history has shown that the smaller a population is, the more it needs to be advocated for because they don’t have a voice for themselves. Sheer numbers play a huge role. Adding to that, a portion of this population isn’t able to speak, so it’s extra important for anyone who is able to, to speak up and do what they can for their community.