The Black Eyed Peas Artist Apl.de.ap On Vision Health
Education and Advocacy Grammy Award winner apl.de.ap, of The Black Eyed Peas, opens up about his experience with vision impairment to inspire others.
Mediaplanet: You were diagnosed with nystagmus and nearsightedness, rendering you legally blind. How has this impacted your life? How have you overcome your limitations?
apl.de.ap I was born with this eye condition, so it’s been a part of my life since the very start. Today though, I feel a lot less impaired by it than I used to. I’ve been blessed with family and friends that have guided me to where I am now.
I’ve surrounded myself with people who I trust because I need help with daily tasks like signing checks at restaurants, reading the fine print in business contracts or even being directed where to go.
Technology has also really helped out with the limitations in almost everything I do. With the direction that phones are going – like the bigger screen trend – it’s helped a ridiculous amount. Even when I was doing The Voice of the Philippines, they had a setup where the contestants were shown on a tablet to help me match the voice with the face. When I’m DJing, I get around the issue with my Macbook, with the display set so I can read the tracks that I’m putting on.
Between relying on the people that are closest to me and tech advancements, I’m able to find a balance in my life.
MP: What was your biggest challenge growing up with these difficulties?
a.d.a It was really tough for me growing up. I didn’t have much in the Philippines, and on top of that, I was scared I’d never be able to do the things I wanted to do because of my vision. School was not my thing at all because I couldn’t really see the blackboard and the medical technology in the Philippines at the time wasn’t sophisticated enough to correct my vision.
“Thanks to the surgery, I can actually see people from a distance, whereas before I couldn’t.”
I will say this though, my vision condition definitely sharpened all my other instincts, especially when it comes to reading people. All those things you read and see in the movies about blind people having heightened senses is true. It’s really given me a different perspective on things. What I learned from my experience is that sometimes the challenge you are faced with can become the biggest strength in your life.
MP: Have your vision issues impacted your performance and presence in the spotlight?
a.d.a When I first started performing, I could only see the first five rows of fans at our shows and only the shapes of my Black Eyed Peas family, Will.i.am, Taboo and Fergie, on stage. I couldn’t see facial detail at all! I would do measurements in my head to pull off our dance moves during our shows.
My vision impairments also made me self-conscious about opportunities, as I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull them off successfully. When I first got offered The Voice of the Philippines, I was nervous because I didn’t know how I’d do without being able to see the contestants. I pushed through and recognized the great opportunity to not only be on TV but also mentor young Filipino talent. We worked it out so that I had a tablet in front of me to see.
MP: How has having eye surgery changed your life?
a.d.a Well with nystagmus, there is really nothing that you can do that will completely reverse the effects. The best way to explain my condition is involuntary movement of the eyes, which causes the limited vision. The surgery I had involved placing lenses in my eyes. A lot of the fuzziness I used to see has cleared up.
I can see more detail in faces, which I’ve been told, is kind of like the effect of wearing contacts for others. Contacts aren’t an option for me because my condition causes my eyes to vibrate too much. Thanks to the surgery, I can actually see people from a distance, whereas before I couldn’t. It has helped a lot when it comes to just getting through each day, whether that involves really hectic days traveling, or long nights working in the studio.
MP: Tell us about your charity, The Apl.de.ap. Foundation?
a.d.a Many people don’t know this, but my success started from charity – a real act of kindness. I was adopted by my sponsor dad, who was sending money to me in the Philippines when I was a child. Coming to the US changed my life. I met Will.i.am and the rest is history. I feel it’s my responsibility to give back.
The Apl. de. Ap. Foundation is committed to helping youth in my homeland of the Philippines. So far, we have been focused on providing the right education for these kids. That involves building better classrooms — and including things that might seem typical here, but in the Philippines, it’s a whole different story.
Right now, there are some schools that are literally a bunch of desks, chairs and a blackboard setup under a tent. It’s definitely our main focus — just giving the kids what they need to succeed later in their lives.
MP: What are you working on these days aside from the charity and what else do you have in store?
a.d.a These days I feel like I’ve been living on a plane. I just got back from the Philippines after finishing up another season of The Voice of the Philippines.
On the music side of things, I’ve been DJing and playing at different venues all over the world. I’ve also been heavily involved in promoting new talent and bridging the gap between Asian and US artists.
I’ve been working on my solo career, with the new album AP3 coming out later this year. While the Black Eyes Peas family will forever be part of me, going solo has always been something I’ve wanted to do.
MP What advice do you have for those living with low vision or blindness? What message do you want to pass on to them?
a.d.a People are always going to be sensitive about their limitations, especially when it’s on the subject of being handicap. What I would say to that is — don’t be ashamed of it and think that it limits you from doing what you want to do. Don’t be scared to chase your dreams. At first, it may seem like you have to work harder than others. In reality, that different perspective really becomes an advantage.
It’s a gift that lets you view things in a different light. I’m only one person from a whole bunch of people that have become success stories. If you look at Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, those two were able to take their limitations and become two of the greatest music icons ever. Any one of these stories is a powerful tool and I’m blessed to be able to share it with those that relate to the struggles that I’ve overcome.