Photo of Vicky Chapman

         Vicky Chapman

	From Discrimination to a Dream Come True

	by Vicky Chapman


	From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the 

Spring, 1999, edition of the NFB Vigilant, a publication of the 

NFB of Virginia.


	A timid seven-year-old slowly walked into a small dance 

studio which appeared very large to the little girl. The child 

was in awe at how large the room was, and she wondered who the 

other little girl was who faced her and copied all her movements. 

She could see shapes, figures, and colors. She could not see 

faces or recognize expressions. Watching the dance instructor, 

the little girl tried to mimic her steps. Realizing that the 

child wasn't following her movements, the teacher provided oral 

instructions to guide the child's feet through the shuffle-toe-

heel dance steps.
	After three years of tap dancing classes, the little girl 

recognized her love for music and asked her parents if she could 

take piano lessons. She had seen Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals 

put on by the local high school and had dreams of singing and 

dancing on stage. Musical training was a must for performing in 

musicals. Although her parents realized the extent of her 

blindness, they did not want it to discourage their daughter from 

doing what she wanted to do. They bought a piano; then they began 

an extensive search for a piano teacher. The search became a 

drudgery after three piano teachers refused to instruct the 

little girl. The mother finally took the child to one of the best 

piano teachers in the small town of Hartsville. Miss Salleby, the 

piano teacher, asked the child to sit on the bench in front of 

the piano. The room was dark, and a small light shone over the 

sheet music.
	Fearful of the dark room, the child slowly walked over to 

the piano bench, sat down, and faced the sheet music. Miss 

Salleby asked the child how many lines and spaces were in one 

row. Leaning over the piano keys, with her nose touching the 

sheet music, the child attempted to count the lines and spaces. 

Immediately, before the child could announce her findings, the 

teacher turned to the child's mother and announced, "I can't 

teach a blind child how to play the piano."
	The child wanted to scream, "I am not blind. Just give me a 

chance to learn how to play by ear." Without knowing how she got 

out of the woman's house, the child was in her mother's car 

riding home. There was a big lump in her throat, and the child 

wanted to cry. She wanted to be held in her mother's arms and be 

comforted. She wanted to know that she would be given another 

chance for her dream to come true.
	That event was never again mentioned in front of the child, 

and the word "blind" was never again used in front of her until 

she reached college. The child would not touch the piano when her 

parents were home. She would sneak into the living room and teach 

herself hymns, first playing the melody line and then trying to 

play the chords with her left hand. If a member of the family 

caught her trying to play, she would shut the piano lid and go to 

her room.
	Looking back through the images of my childhood memories, I 

still find myself a bit tearful. There are so many types of 

discrimination in this world, but I do believe that denying a 

child the opportunity to learn and expand on her talents is a 

travesty. "Where there is a will, there is a way," is a true 

statement that applies to my life.
	Considering the stumbling blocks I have encountered with my 

music avocation, it is hard to believe that I am a part of the 

Roanoke Opera Chorus. Throughout my high school and college 

careers, I participated in the concert chorus. Listening and 

reviewing recordings from rehearsals was the way I memorized 

music. Instructors discouraged me from trying out for musical 

roles from a fear that I would have difficulty moving around on 

	While in college I attempted a degree in music therapy. I 

was not allowed to use a reader for theory classes, and the 

instructor refused to read aloud what he had written on the 

board. Although I was passing my music therapy classes, I found 

myself exhausted from fighting with instructors and trying to 

obtain the assistance I needed in order to learn. I was taking 

voice and piano instruction, and the piano teacher would enlarge 

my music. Finally, when a theory instructor assigned a fugue to 

be analyzed using a graph, the difficulty I would have completing 

the assignment on my own became obvious. When confronting the 

instructor with my dilemma, he immediately informed me that the 

task had to be completed independently, with no assistance. The 

instructor clearly stated that if the assignment could not be 

completed on my own, I had no business in a music program. I 

dropped out of the program and completed my degree in early 

childhood education.
	For several years I tried to run away from music. After 

completing my bachelor's degree, the prospect of facing the world 

of work haunted me. Denial of my blindness resulted in fear about 

how to perform the duties of a job.
	Realizing my problem, my best friend encouraged me to move 

to Nebraska to attend the Nebraska Center for the Visually 

Impaired. Taking on the challenge, I attended the Nebraska 

Rehabilitation Center. I wore sleep shades from eight to five, 

five days a week; and I was told that I must use, not just take, 

the long white cane everywhere I went during training. One of the 

most difficult tasks for me was facing my fear of blindness. I 

had to talk about my fears, frustrations, and dreams. One of the 

instructors constantly reminded me that I should be on stage 

singing and acting. Performing was difficult for me to approach 

because I was convinced this was a dream that would never come 

true. Through the excellent training I received at the Nebraska 

Orientation Center, I gained confidence and belief in my 

abilities as a blind person. I was no longer ashamed of my 

blindness. It was time for me to apply the skills I had learned 

to my life.
	Professionally, my life blossomed in the field of 

rehabilitation. As a recipient of various grants and scholarships 

I was able to earn a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling 

from Michigan State University. I tried continually to move away 

from music but was constantly encouraged by friends to sing in 

various church choirs. My dream continued to haunt me, and I 

found it difficult to hold my tears back when attending a 

performance. It wasn't fair; I wanted to be one of the performers 

on stage. Testing the waters, I slowly began participating in 

church choirs and even sang one semester with the Michigan State 

concert choir. That vessel that had been empty for so long 

finally started to be filled.
	After moving to Anchorage, Alaska, I joined the community 

chorus, one hundred and sixty voices strong. Despite being the 

type of person who is neither religious nor superstitious, I have 

to admit that I do believe that an angel came into my life by the 

name of Kathy. Kathy lived in my neighborhood and gave me rides 

home from choral rehearsal. After hearing me sing, Kathy 

encouraged and nudged me to become more active in music. The 

Anchorage Community Theater was having a call for people to try 

out for The Sound of Music. Kathy talked to the director and had 

a couple of pages enlarged that I would have to read for tryout. 

Naturally, I memorized the two pages, prepared a song, held my 

breath, and showed up for tryouts. To my surprise, I was offered 

and accepted the role of Sister Sophia. Interesting note: when I 

was a little girl, my grandmother would ask me what I wanted to 

be when I grew up. Smiling and very serious, I would reply, a 

nun. The director was not concerned about my blindness but was 

concerned that I would be off crutches by the time of the 

performances. While I had been skiing, an unfortunate accident 

had left me with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
	One could say that my dream came true. After the completion 

of the musical, the chorus director of the Anchorage Opera 

Company encouraged me to try out for a part in the chorus. Again, 

mustering up my courage, I dusted off some old voice 

instructional books and auditioned. Now, looking back, it is hard 

to decide which was most difficult: auditioning in front of a New 

York director or performing on a sloped stage which was very 

slippery. La Traviata was my first opera. I never dreamed of 

being dressed in such elegant costumes and performing on such a 

grand stage.
	When I moved to Roanoke, Virginia, finally I knew in which 

community activities I wanted to participate. Within my first 

month of moving to the Star City I auditioned for the Roanoke 

Symphony Chorus. Seven months later I was standing in a gym at 

the Jefferson Center auditioning for a part with the Roanoke 

Opera Chorus. Again I was shaking as I walked toward the piano, 

proudly using my cane. I turned and faced the director, Craig 

Fields, and nodded to my accompanist to begin. When I had sung 

the last note, I waited anxiously for a response. It felt as if I 

were waiting an eternity. Finally I mustered the courage to 

inquire about Mr. Field's opinion of my audition. To my relief 

the director informed me that I was in the chorus. My heart 

soared, and immediately I realized that Mr. Fields had not asked 

me any questions concerning how I would learn my music or move 

around on stage. Again curiosity got the better of me, and I 

asked Mr. Fields if he had any questions about my blindness. His 

response was "no." To my relief, Craig informed me that he had 

worked with several blind people over the years as a vocal 

instructor and choral director.
	As of now I have performed in four operas with the Roanoke 

Opera. The chorus members are like a small family. We work 

together to help each other learn parts, act, and move around on 

stage. My fellow chorus members know that I will ask for help 

when I need it and are more than willing to assist me. Craig has 

indicated that he is amazed at the way I move around on stage. I 

have to admit that I have failed to tell him how many times I 

have run into props back stage. Seriously, my tenacity on stage 

comes from my desire and belief in myself and Craig's belief in 

my abilities. Yes, there are times when I am afraid that I may 

miss a movement or a musical cue, or sing the wrong note. These 

are fears that any actor has and mistakes that any actor can 

	I may never be on Broadway, but that doesn't matter. 

Remember that my dream was to be on stage and perform. That dream 

has come true. It has been a struggle, but hopefully one that 

will pave the way for others who are blind. Everywhere we go we 

are setting examples that others can observe, learn from, and 

follow. When we are willing to follow our dreams, discrimination 

can result in a dream come true.