This musician lost his vision, but he gained a community. Here's how.Play Video
Brian began playing piano as a young child growing up in Los Angeles and turned his love of music into a career. However, Brian was diagnosed with myopic macular degeneration: a progressive disease causing a slow loss of vision. “It really affected my driving," Brian recalls. "It affected my piano playing. It affected my whole life."
“When you lose the ability to drive, you lose your independence. It makes you feel like you're not a complete person as you once were.”
Suddenly, due to several hardships including losing people dear to him, Brian found himself grappling with grief, his vision loss, isolation from difficulty driving, and mounting expenses all at the same time.
“I literally did not know what I was going to do,” Brian says. That’s when he decided to sell his keyboards. He also decided to reach out for help.
Did You Know?
It is projected that the number of people with legal blindness will reach 2 million by 2050.
Connecting with the Foundation for Senior Living
“I just kept searching until I called the Foundation for Senior Living,” Brian says. “They understood that I had lost my vision, lost my partner, and money was becoming an issue, and they said ‘Hey, we have the perfect place for you’.”
The Foundation for Senior Living (FSL) is a nonprofit organization based in Phoenix dedicated to improving the quality of life for people of all ages by connecting them with social services, transportation, and access to affordable housing.
FSL quickly invited Brian to check out an apartment in one of their affordable housing communities.
"When you're an independent person… it’s not an easy thing to have to ask for help, but once I got over that and humbled myself and asked for help, they were there."
Tom Egan, President and CEO of the Foundation for Senior Living, emphasizes that the organization’s goal is to not only provide affordable housing, but also to help people continue to live independently while staying connected.
“One of the things I think I found that was really surprising when I came to Foundation for Senior Living, is the transportation and the isolation and how those two things go together,” Tom says.
Brian checked out the FSL apartment and fell in love with the place. “Once I moved here, my whole life got better,” Brian explains. Brian found love again too. After reconnecting with an old high school friend, Sherry, on Facebook, she moved to Phoenix and into the FSL community with him.
Brian acknowledges it wasn’t always easy, especially after losing the ability to drive. Sherry agrees. “When that [independence] goes away, it affects you emotionally and mentally,” she says.
Self-driving technology: the potential to help people who no longer drive
Brian says he believes that fully self-driving technology like Waymo’s has the potential to help people like him.
“No matter what your disability is, having this service of driverless vehicles, you not only get to and from where you need to go, but you have that extra safety,” says Brian, who recently took his first trip in a Waymo self-driving vehicle with Sherry.
"What's really interesting about it is, yes, it's an incredible technology... but as with any technology, like an amp or an electric piano, it's about what the technology brings to the people."
Self-driving technology is constantly vigilant and is designed to respond to objects up to 500 meters away and be a cautious, defensive driver. Self-driving cars can’t get distracted, drunk, or text while driving.
Tom says the promise of self-driving vehicles aligns with FSL’s overarching mission to help people access the destinations and activities that give their lives meaning. “I absolutely see how this technology can be a game changer for many of the people that we serve,” he adds.
Brian agrees. “What’s really interesting about it is, yes, it’s an incredible technology… but as with any technology, like an amp or an electric piano, it’s about what the technology brings to the people.”
Getting the music back
After Brian moved in to his new home, he befriended his new neighbors who offer him rides and bring him food. After about a year, Brian casually mentioned how much he missed playing music. His neighbors and FSL took note.
One morning, Brian received a phone call from a neighbor asking him to come outside to the patio. As he went down, he could see a group of people.
“All my neighbors were standing blocking the patio area,” Brian recalls. “They all moved aside and there on the table was a brand new electric keyboard,” explains Brian, who was so touched he was moved to tears. He had to practice a lot, but he eventually relearned how to play the keyboard with his eyes closed, using his sense of touch.
He says this was the most amazing thing anyone had ever done for him. “FSL basically brought music back into my life.”