On Sept. 30, the York College Helping Hands Club hosted an event titled “Lunch, Learn and be Inspired” to raise awareness about a growing disability-inclusive workforce in the music and recording industry.
Brooke Fox, president of Visionary Media and an award-winning singer-songwriter, spoke at the event after Helping Hands member Emmanuel Ologundudu, who also interned for Fox over the summer, contacted her to speak at the event.
“When Lisa brought up the disability employment event I thought, well I just came off a job working with someone who is visually impaired and is the president of the company,” said Ologundudu. “I thought it would be a good idea for her to come and share her experience.”
According to its website, Visionary Media is non-profit organization with a mission to “provide training, resources, and opportunity for every music and media professional who is blind or visually impaired.”
“We work with musicians with blindness and we help them develop their careers,” said Fox. “We have musicians who are functioning on the professional level and who are serious about pursuing a career in the music industry.”
Club President, Acquanetta Benjamin, appreciated the outlook of Fox and others involved in Visionary Media.
“These are people who have made a way for themselves and worked through their disability,” said Benjamin. “Instead of it being a disability it became an ability.”
During her presentation Fox talked about the challenges the visually impaired and blind have encountered in the music industry, because of new “touchscreen and visual interfaces.”
“Whether it’s something as simple as uploading a photo to Facebook or trying to use Pro Tools, you can imagine someone with visual impairment will have difficulties using certain technology,” said Fox.
Fox’s staff, which includes industry professionals both visually impaired and sighted people, developed a system pairing together experienced professionals with artists who were new to the program.
“What we try to do is pair our artists with mentors who have an established contact list, so that when they enter an event the networking comes to them,” said Fox.
Fox mentioned Blessing Offor, a 25-year-old singer songwriter and Visionary Media artist who Fox said is, “Really making moves in the industry.”
Offor is a contestant on ABC’s singing competition, The Voice. Fox played a clip of Offor’s audition, where he talked about losing his sight at age 9, but said, “Music has been the north star, its been the thing I wanted to do no matter what’s going on in my life.”
Jimmy Young, Danny Keen and Justin Kauflin, are all artists who have worked with Visionary Media and who Fox considered “successful by making a living in the music industry.”
Fox also showed the trailer for Keep On Keepin’ On trailer, a documentary of Kauflin’s relationship with his mentor, Clark Terry.
Lisa Maycock, the club’s faculty advisor, said Offor’s audition clip had a positive effect on the students who attended the event.
“I think, both students with and without disabilities benefited from seeing Blessing on The Voice,” she said. “They can see that a person with a disability can get far in society, despite their disability.”
Alumnus and former Helping Hands Club President Kenny Burdier also attended and said he learned that resources exist for people with disabilities in the workplace.
“Even in the music industry that’s not always equipped for people with disabilities, there are opportunities,” said Burdier. “The opportunities are bigger than I thought.”