The show must go on

Professional Singer Stephanie Smith refuses to let losing her sight stop her 

Since 10th grade, singer and actor Stephanie Smith has struggled with her vision, from the simple need to wear glasses, to getting into a car accident that detached her retinas.

Exacerbated by diabetes, she began to slowly lose her eyesight, with tunnel vision in her right eye and only peripheral in her left.

Still, Smith was able to see … until 2009.

“They kept doing surgery after surgery after surgery until my eye went dead,” Smith said. “I don’t even have light perception anymore. I’m completely dark.”

But Smith hasn’t allowed the darkness to effect her passion for performing, while also helping others who are visually impaired to continue performing as well.

Smith’s voice was trained by classical expert Bradley Baker. At 13, she sang background for R&B singer Natalie Cole in 1991 at the Greek Theatre.

Smith went on to compete in the Los Angeles Music Center’s “Spotlight Awards” held at their Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where she became the 1995 Spotlight Award winner in her category after competing against 5,000 other music students throughout California.

“I participated in anything that had music—musicals, plays, anything,” Smith said.

But in 2009, she began to have issues with her eyesight. Smith said that she still was able to sing gigs, but because she let people know about her debilitating eyesite, the work opportunities came less.

“Phone calls stopped,” she recalled. “Nobody reached out to me, you know? And then I would reach out to them and nothing.”

According to the World Health Organization, “Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness, of whom at least 1 billion have a vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed.”

Despite being what some would consider forgotten in the industry, Smith has managed to adjust her life.

Smith’s oldest son, Jordan Taylor, who often serves as her aid, said his mom is independent.

“Generally, she tries to do stuff by herself, and when she asks, she at least lets you know she tried to do it by herself,” Taylor said.

Smith credits her faith in God and the encouragement from her children when she is feeling down.

“I do have my days where I feel discouraged because it seems like you reach out to people and people don’t want to be there, but outside of that, it’s like God’s saying to me, ‘I’m showing you right now, even though you don’t want to do it, you can do a lot of this by yourself without the help of those other people that you’re reaching out to,’” Smith said.

Smith, after first trying to resist her inevitable blindness, eventually she learned to embrace it.

She enrolled in the California Department of Rehabilitation. According to Smith, they sent people to her home to teach her how to travel with a guide cane and taught her how to navigate through her kitchen. She later enrolled in computer classes.

In June 2018, Smith founded The Vizionz Project, Inc., with the purpose of providing people who are visually impaired with the same opportunities their sighted peers have, and to bridge the gap between the groups to help facilitate more inclusive interactions. The schools that are designed for the visually impaired children, Smith believes, are not taught at the same level.

“These kids do not get the same opportunities. No one’s teaching dance to blind kids and only some schools teach drama,” Smith said.

Smith said the hardest part about running The Vizionz Project, Inc. is not the fact that she’s blind, but the difficulty  to acquire fundraising.

“Everything that I do is going to require money, and I’m on a fixed income,” she said. “Using your personal money to get your business started is already hard. And when your money is limited, it’s even harder.”

According to Smith’s nonprofit consultant Alicia Barmore, who founded Favour Consulting Group, there are more than, “1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S and about 21% of all non-profits bring in less than $50k per year in revenue.”

Barmore said she has helped start and develop hundreds of nonprofits for over 12 years.

“What’s really unique, and what I love about Stephanie’s story, is that she’s taking a stand for thousands of other people that are in the same situation,” Barmore said.

 Smith acknowledged that although she may have lost her eyesight, she hasn’t lost her gifts.

“My physical sight is gone, but my vision is very much there and I want the world to know I can see a lot more than you think I can,” Smith said.

To hear what the Pierce College Community thinks about performing with a disability, listen to the audio package by staff member, Heri Guzman