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Meet Casey Harris, Visually Impaired Keyboardist for
X Ambassadors

by Neva Fairchild

If you haven’t heard of the X Ambassadors, you are missing out. In the last couple of months, the indie rock band has had several hits including "Renegades" and "Unsteady" that have put them in the spotlight. But one member of the band has really caught our attention.

Not only is Casey Harris the keyboardist for the X Ambassadors, but he is an ambassador for musicians conquering disability in the image-conscious world of alternative rock. Despite having to confront ignorance and prejudice in his early days, Casey has never refused to let visual impairment deny him a career in music.

Casey graduated from the School of Piano Technology for the Blind in 2007 and worked as a professional piano tuner for five years before the band took off. X Ambassadors went on to earn a record deal with Interscope, the home of Lady Gaga, and support bands such as Muse and Imagine Dragons at arena shows.

Frustrated at being yelled at by New York cabbies and given short shrift by subway commuters, Casey wanted to send a message to the world with the band’s breakthrough song, "Renegades", a hymn to outsiders. The video focuses on two young people who are blind who engage in activities like weightlifting and hiking.

"The message of our music is ‘the extraordinary exists within the ordinary’. It celebrates the ordinary person and says no to discrimination and ignorance," says Casey, whose blindness is not immediately obvious to many. "People don’t know till I bust out my cane. I don’t look blind."

Casey’s message about discrimination is not the only one we have heard recently. During the Grammy Awards this past February, Stevie Wonder sent a message about disability awareness when he teased the audience about not being about to read braille. Stevie Wonder proclaimed: "We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability." Stevie Wonder is not alone in this awareness effort. Casey is also willing to take on Wonder’s campaigning mantle.

"It’s a heavy crown and I hope I’m worthy of it. I count myself among the disability community, and I have a public voice now. I want to use that voice to help other people. I’m doing my little part," Casey said.

We hope to see great things from this disability advocate and continue to hear great music from X Ambassadors. Good luck, Casey!

More Entertainment Industry Careers of Visually Impaired Employees


When You Don't Feel Worthy of Employment (or Relationships for that Matter) As an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

People holding hands in a circle

Listen, this is a hard topic. I know it will not apply to all readers; many of you are already confident (or as I like to say, “ humbly-confident”). But it will apply to some; if it applies to you, it was worth every word.

Don’t know if it applies to you? Take the three examples and see if any describes you.

  • You don’t want to pursue training in Orientation and Mobility or Assistive Technology because you don’t think you’d be hired or perform well regardless.
  • If you were told by your boss that you are an exceptional employee, you would not believe her.
  • You would apply for a leadership role or other more senior position if you thought you were qualified. (Did I mention you have worked in your field for years with positive performance evaluations?)

Any of these statements sound like the war that wages in your mind? The war of worth. You struggle with a sense of worthiness.

You know me, always listening to TEDtalks. Of course I heard a fantastic one yesterday: "The Power of Vulnerability" by qualitative researcher Brene Brown.

Ms. Brown studied adults who feel worthwhile and those who don’t. She wanted to know what makes people feel “worthy”, and if those who lack a sense of worthiness could utilize strategies to begin feeling “worthy”.

After years of research, she concluded, “A sense of worthiness comes from a strong sense of love and belonging.”

So I wonder if you have a “tribe” in which you belong. Do you have a core group of friends? Alternatively, have you been feeling socially isolated?

Ms. Brown would tell you that belonging to a group is imperative because it will give you:

  • Courage to be imperfect
  • Compassion to yourself and others
  • Connection as a result of authenticity, and
  • Vulnerability.

Out of this safe and comforting place will rise, according to Ms. Brown, “a birthplace of creativity, belonging, love, joy.”

Here are my suggestions for plugging into a group and finding your “tribe”:

  • Utilize AFB’s directory of services to find a local peer support group with others who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Volunteer in an area of interest and get to know those who you work alongside.
  • Get involved in the activities suggested in "How to Beat Work-Related Stress", such as joining a social club, hobby group, exercise team, etc.
  • Invite your neighbors to dinner.

You’ll have to interact with a dozen or more social groups, I’d guess, before finding one that is a perfectly imperfect match with you. But do it anyway; Your mental health will thank you.

After you are well-connected, I think you’ll see you were already worthy. You can be successful in the right workplace. You can get a job; you can be an exceptional employee; and you can advance in your career.


Re-Think Leadership, You Already Are a Leader

White clock with words 'Time for Leadership' on its face.

Can I have ten minutes of your time? First, listen to a six minute TedTalk entitled, "Everyday Leadership" and second, let's chat. In the talk, you'll hear Drew Dudley share his opinion on leadership. Here's a summary, which omits his engaging story and in no way encompasses his full scope of thoughts: Most people think leadership is currently outside of their reach and is something to one day step into, when in fact, they already are displaying leadership.

He continues. You affect others now by encouraging them, noticing them, being an example to them, and teaching them by your words and lifestyle. If you affect others, you have changed the worldview of at least one; you have "changed the world." You are a leader.

Yes! I couldn't agree more and I'm thankful he enlightened me; enlightened us. That's what a leader does after all, and he did it well. You can do that. I'm guessing you already do. You notice others and encourage them. You enlighten them.

Furthermore, in a former blog, we spoke of the obvious. We said that as a person who is blind or visually impaired, you are noticed. Eyes are on you and I think this is positive more often than not.

This means the following: You can be an example to others as one who overcomes an obstacle. You can model accepting oneself as is. You can demonstrate that a disability is merely one feature of a person. You can pave the way for others with disabilities to enter and advance in the workforce by displaying your strong work ethic and advocacy in the workplace. You can shape worldviews. You can, as Mr. Dudley puts it, "change the world."

You are a leader.

So leader, I give you the following resources on leadership attributes. Don't think of these skill sets as "ones to one day exhibit", but as guides to honing what you already do.

  1. Building Positive Work Habits
  2. Communicating on the Job
  3. Solving Problems at Work

Did you listen to the talk? What are your thoughts? I'd love for you to join the conversation and shape some worldviews.

Planning for the Future

Using a Hobby to Earn Supplemental Income

Piggy bank overflow

We once talked about the work-related benefits of hobbies for employees who are blind or visually impaired. Remember that video blog? I sure appreciated your blog comments; you discussed the hobbies you have pursued and how they have expounded your work skills and creativity. One of you ("dmolino21" to be precise) stated that you enjoy your artistic hobbies and you sometimes get paid for them. Impressive! Thank you for sharing and steering the conversation. We have you to thank for this blog (smile!).

Whether you’re looking for a part-time gig in retirement, a second source of income throughout your career years, or a supply of cash flow while you’re seeking a full-time job, a hobby may be the answer.

But how can you get cash for a hobby?

  • Consider what you do really well that others find valuable. Read AboutMoney’s article on hobbies that you can turn into a business. They suggest ventures in animal care, gardening, art, and reading/writing. I’ll add suggestions such as computer know-how, woodworking, music performance, childcare, baking, and language expertise. You can have a business selling products or services, as well as teaching lessons in the area of your expertise.
  • Plan. That’s right; there is much to plan when it comes to even the smallest entrepreneurial journey. How will you invoice your customers? Where will you order your materials? What happens when you receive a large order? How much time are you willing to devote to your new job? How will you pay taxes? What if your friends want a “friends discount”?
  • Set the cost of your item/ service based on the value of your time and the amount folks are willing to pay. To do so, you must know how much money and time it takes to create each item. Additionally, research your competition and the “going rates”.
  • Identify your customers. To do so, answer the following: Who purchases items like the ones you create? Who needs the services you provide? Who is most willing to pay for your expertise? Who will hire you?
  • Market to your customers. If your customers will search for your services online, have an online presence. If your customers will be a type of business, contact businesses and provide samples. If those who hire you will be your neighbors, post flyers, connect with them at HOA meetings, and have business cards available.
  • Make the experience a positive one for your consumers. You need repeat customers and positive word-of-mouth. So remember to over-deliver, make personal connections with the consumers, and handle any errors or issues with integrity.

Let me know what you’d add to the list!

For motivation and know-how, read Tammy Ruggle's success story of turning her hobby into a profession; tips for making hobbies accessible for those with visual impairments; and VisionAware’s Creating a Hobby-Job article.


Your One-Stop-Shop for Back-to-School Resources As a Student Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

Businessman sitting at a desk looking at the camera

The entire community of American Foundation for the Blind is rooting for you! We so want to see you succeed in your educational pursuits. In thinking how to support you, I decided to gather a comprehensive list of blogs, articles, and videos geared to getting the schoolyear off to the finest start.

So review the following resources and garner the counsel you need:

  1. Let's Talk Assistive Technology for Students with Visual Impairments

  2. Making a Remarkable First Impression As a Student Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

  3. You're Heading Back to School (High School or College) and You Need a Dose of Confidence

  4. AccessWorld's Back to School issue (AccessWorld is an assistive technology magazine from AFB)

  5. A Cheat Sheet to Help You Self-Advocate for Accommodations as a College Student Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

  6. How to Successfully Transition from High School to College and Work as a Student Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

  7. Improving Your Organizational Skills (This blog is written with employees in mind, but equally pertinent for students.

  8. Dress and Impress (This video’s target audience is job applicants, yet the principles are just as valuable to college and graduate school students.)

  9. Are You Passive, Aggressive, or Assertive in Your Communication? (The information found here is very important for students as they self-advocate for accommodations.)

  10. Educational Accommodations and Modifications at a Glance (While this is a FamilyConnect resource intended for parents of children who are blind or visually impaired, its information is valuable to students of all ages.)

May these resources help you supersede even your own expectations of your academic capabilities!

Planning for the Future