How a Music Teacher Uses Tech to Help Her Visually Impaired Students

Posted on 07/20/2017

Posted by Consumer Technology Association (CTA)

Technology has opened doors and created possibilities for people with disabilities. Dalia Sakas is a music teacher at the Lighthouse Guild, a vision and health care organization addressing the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired.

As a musician, Sakas never thought technology would play a huge role in her career. However, when she joined the teaching staff at the Lighthouse Guild, she found that technology was the key to helping her students. We had a chance to speak with her about her background and how she uses technology in her job. 

Learn More about the Lighthouse Guild Music School

Tell us a little about your background. How did you get started in your industry?

My background is totally a musician’s background. I have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree — all in piano performance. The idea or goal was to be working in the field of music as a performer and teacher. This is how I began at Lighthouse International in 1993.

What is your role at Lighthouse Guild?

The music library of the Lighthouse Music School was adequate for most of our students. Many of the great classical works had been transcribed into braille music and into Modified Staff Notation and were available to be photocopied and the braille to be thermoformed (rubberized paper heated to “copy” the dots of the braille cells from one document to another). But when I began teaching children, I realized that many of the current songs of different genres were not being transcribed, and our students were relegated to playing the same classical literature that had been taught for so many years.  Where was the kicky material to keep a young student’s interest?

When the position of chorus master opened up and I assumed that role, I quickly realized that we were hindered by not having quicker access to various formats of music for our students with varying eye conditions. Chorus music in the past had been requisitioned a year in advance for scheduled performances. I began by meeting with one of our braille teachers and painstakingly transcribing music for our chorus by hand, one part at a time.

What role does technology play in accessibility?

We soon discovered that Dancing Dots Technologies had released software that translated music into music braille. We invested in these programs (Lime and Goodfeel) and the whole course of our teaching changed. We were no more relegated to using material that happened to exist already. We could choose new arrangements of current songs or more obscure pieces that nobody had transcribed yet.

As we used the software, the more and more it became apparent that we could do more concerts with more varied programs. Concurrently, we were able to develop our Comprehensive Music Program for Young People, which absolutely necessitated the production of new and diverse material. As students were mainstreamed, the need to instruct teachers on how to create braille music or enlarged musical scores (Modified Staff Notation) became necessary, and we embarked on teacher training workshops and created our own Accessible Music Technology Lab.

Advancing technology was the big factor that made our school more relevant than ever. With developing technologies to make audio recording and sequencing programs accessible, another area of opportunity opened up. Although my musical training had not involved too much technology, I now realized that technology was the key to helping the students I was working with at this music school. My job had morphed into not just being a good musician, but also having the skills to work with the technology needed. This development has also enabled the inclusion of our students into classes, orchestras, bands and other musical organizations because, most important, they have equal access to the materials.

We now produce our own music and can customize each copy to an individual’s needs, whether the student needs braille music or whatever percentage of enlargement. The technology has advanced still more so that now unsighted musicians can create printed scores for sighted musicians, can work as audio engineers or compose using technology, and can keep up with their sighted peers in any situation.