A high school-aged clarinet player reached out to me on Pinterest a few days ago asking me if I had any tips for how to read marching band drill sheets and talking to their director about marching with low vision. The conversation made me think of my time in marching band and what I wish I had done differently, and how I would approach situations differently now that I know more about my visual impairment, particularly as it related to marching drill. In honor of Music in Our Schools Month, here are some considerations for writing marching band drill for low vision students, from the perspective of a student with low vision.
Some background on my marching band experiences
My first high school had one marching band program that performed at football games and at competitions across the region. My first band director took marching band very seriously and required all students to participate for a grade. However, my band director ended up exempting me from this requirement since I have low vision and am photosensitive, though during my sophomore year I pushed for them to allow me to be part of the pep band and play in the stands during football games and school events.
At my second high school, there were two marching programs, a halftime band that played at football games and a competition band that performed at competitions. I participated in the halftime band as it involved less complicated marching drill and I felt more comfortable participating in this type of program. My band director did encourage me to participate in competition band senior year, but I didn’t feel confident with the more elaborate choreography, and I ultimately spent most of the season playing off to the side because I broke my ankle a month into the school year.
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Can drill sheets be made accessible for students with visual impairments?
When I was in high school, my band director and I didn’t think about making drill sheets accessible for me, because they found it easier to just tell me where to go verbally, or ask another student to do so. However, there are options for making drill sheets accessible, which include:
- Scanning in high-resolution images of drill sheets and label them for the student so they know where their dot is
- Create a tactile graphic so that they can feel the different dots and get an idea of where they are
- Have the drill sheet projected or cast to a screen so that it is larger
- Use a video magnifier to make the paper easier to see
Of course, telling the student where to go or asking a student to do these tasks is also a viable option, but making the drill sheets available in an accessible format can be helpful for helping the student to navigate independently.
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Thinking about a student’s usable vision
When writing drill for a student with low vision, it is helpful to think about their usable vision and make sure that they would be able to march successfully with the given instructions. For example, a student with limited peripheral vision in their left eye may not feel comfortable with leading a line of people in moving to the left, which was the case for one of my friends. While I don’t recommend giving the student overly simple drill unless they ask for it, or having them just stand off to the side, it can be helpful to know about their visual impairment so that they aren’t put in a disorienting situation.
- Learning To Explain Usable Vision
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Ask about bright lighting and flying objects
Another thing that can impact how well a student is able to execute drill is bright lighting, as people with certain visual impairments may have less usable vision under bright lighting conditions. Students with visual impairments may also feel less comfortable with being close to flying objects such as flags, rifles, or batons, especially if they have limited peripheral vision, so it’s better to keep students away from these when possible.
Involve the student in the decision-making process
During my senior year, my band director originally wrote drill for a piece that involved me leading a line of people in a backwards diagonal line, not realizing that I had trouble walking backwards, walking diagonally, and leading a line of people. While I am glad that they had so much confidence in me that I would be able to execute this task, I ended up incredibly frustrated and so did a lot of the marching band staff members, who didn’t understand the extent of my vision loss or neurological condition. My band director ended up rewriting my part so that I was no longer leading people or walking in a way that was painful, and it helped me feel much more confident and happy knowing that I wasn’t walking awkwardly in front of an audience. Moral of the story- involving the student in the decision-making process for drill can save a lot of time and anxiety!
Should there be a human guide available?
One of the questions I received from a student was whether a human guide should be available for them as they are marching- as in, having a student guide them to where they should go. Again, this depends on the student preferences, but there have been many band programs that have successfully used human guides to help guide students with visual impairments as to where they should go. Some programs would only use the guide during band camp or practices, while others would have the students tethered together during games so they could lead them as to where to go. I frequently used informal human guides to help me figure out where to go, and the people standing next to me also helped me at times when I got lost, but did not use a guide while performing.
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Don’t forget accessible music!
While it’s fun to think about movement and all of the visual effects of marching band, it’s critical to make sure that the student also has access to accessible music. Since marching band music is often smaller than standard-sized music, I recommend working with the student to figure out what size will work best, or providing digital copies of music so they can enlarge them on their own. I have a few posts about how I receive accessible music linked below.
- Ways To Use Music Stands As Assistive Technology
- Tips For Reading Music On An iPad With Low Vision
- My Large Print Music Binder
- How To Make Music Accessible With Microsoft Publisher
Even though I wasn’t in it for very long, I’m grateful for my band director for working to make marching band accessible for me, and being willing to listen to me as I learned to balance playing and walking at the same time. I hope this post on considerations for writing marching band drill for low vision students is helpful for others!