A newborn arriving three weeks before its due date is considered premature. Jessica and her twin sister, Andra, were born three months early, each weighing less than two pounds. The earlier the birth, the higher the risk that vision, hearing, learning and overall health may be compromised. For Jessica and Andra, an early birth resulted in retinopathy of prematurity. Sometimes this disorder of the retina improves with age but for them, has resulted in vision loss.

Growing up, music was always playing in their home and their grandmother would often take them to orchestra concerts. “Grandma worked at the library so she would bring many tapes (yes, tapes) and CDs for me. Most of them were jazz and I think that is where my love of jazz began.” With its complex harmonies, energy, rhythm and colorful improvisation, Jessica was drawn to jazz and other forms of music at a young age.

Now, with a performance degree in saxophone under her belt, she is pursuing a degree in music education so she can share her passion for music with others. Once she completes her student teaching this fall, she will graduate and hopes to obtain her teaching licensure before the end of the year.

As a musician with low vision, Jessica struggles to see sheets of music despite enlarging them—bigger and bigger—so she could read them. She has used low vision aids like NuEyes ODG Smart Glasses that she purchased through Judith A. Read Low Vision Services a few years ago. While aids help for a while she says, “Having low vision, I’ve has to develop new strategies and I’m continually adapting as my vision changes.” According to the director of UDS’ low vision clinic, Dr. Cheryl Reed, “Jessica does not let her visual impairment limit her love of music or her enjoyment of life.” Continually learning about new technology, Jessica recently discovered Lime Lighter by Dancing Dots, a music reading solution for people who have low vision. She is excited to try this new technology, specific to her needs. She is also learning to read Braille music, which is different than regular Braille, as she prepares for the day when she may need to rely upon it.

Just as she has had to adapt and learn to use low vision aids, as she prepares to become a teacher she is working with her instructors to come up with ways to modify traditional classroom settings and behavior so she can teach in a way that will work best with her vision. For example, if a student has a question, instead of raising a hand, they may need to stand up or signal to her in some other fashion.

As part of her instrumental methods class last spring, she worked with college-age students with disabilities through the Center & Community Studies program at Kent State University. She enjoyed teaching them and learning from each student so she can adapt her teaching style to meet the diverse needs of future students. It is her hope to work with middle-school-age students someday and she looks forward to her student teaching this fall.

Dr. Reed says, “Jessica overcomes the limitations of her vision loss by embracing technology and sharing her passion for music with others. Her energy and enthusiasm allow her to easily relate to and encourage others. She has taught her professors about blindness and her students with disabilities about music.” Jessica is eager to begin a teaching career, ready to assess, adapt and tackle whatever comes her way.