Songwriter and performer Justine Eltakchi has penned songs for The Voice Australia and Eurovision Australia Decides.
As a legally blind person, Justine wants to make the music industry more accessible for performers, creators, workers and audiences.
Justine shares five tips to support people with Disability.
APRA AMCOS Ambassador Justine Eltakchi is on a hot streak as the songwriter for two of the Top 4 winner singles on this season of The Voice Australia. Justine co-wrote 'Other Side', performed by Thando Sikwila, with production powerhouse DNA (David Musumeci and Anthony Egizii) and Faith Sosense's single 'Words You Should Have Heard' with producer Chi (Chris Chidiac).
Born legally blind, Justine is on a mission to change the Disability narrative by sharing her experience online. An issue Justine identifies within the music industry and society in general is “black and white thinking” when it comes to understanding people with Disability. Accessibility is the responsibility of the broader music industry, something she has spoke about during her career.
Justine says, “Not using a cane has made me appear very independent, but I am 100% night blind and have low vision in the day. The problem is asking for help when my disability “appears” to not be a challenge for me, when in fact I am constantly adapting or winging it, often faking I am okay when I am not. As an adult I have recently begun using an I.D cane when traveling for the first time. It has been overwhelming for me to get the assistance I need, and I'm learning to overcome my own complex feelings about using an aid.
"Advocating for the scope of disability has been my mission online and in the music industry, because there are so many invisible Disabilities or ways in which people cover up their needs due to stigma or lack of awareness.”
Justine is an ARIA-nominated, chart-topping songwriter (Jasmine Rae's Lionside) who also wrote the Eurovision Australia Decides 2020 song 'Proud' for Casey Donovan, placing second. Justine’s approach to life and career has always been: “you’ll either find a way or you’ll find an excuse,” so being resourceful when you are constantly overcoming challenges has been key to her success.
"Songwriting can often be a welcomed relief, as when I am sitting playing an instrument or writing lyrics, it isn't dependent on how well I can see. Throughout my life I have struggled in other jobs and roles where they rely more on sight, so I feel grateful to music that I can find a place to be and to achieve. I hope everyone with a Disability can feel the same way in the music industry."
Being in music means traveling a lot, navigating new cities and working in different environments. Traveling three months a year and visiting over 26 countries, Justine is well versed in what can help when you have a Disability.
So how can we support people with Disability when we don’t fully understand the individuals' unique needs? Justine shares five tips:
- Start up a dialogue
But first ask if the person is comfortable with sharing or answering some questions. It shows initiative and sincerity when you show your eagerness to understand so you might consider accommodations or ways to support someone with their accessibility needs.
Don’t wait for encounters with people with Disability, but actively seek out books and resources that give you intel. Australian Disability advocate and singer-songwriter Eliza Hull, has just published a book called We’ve Got This: Stories by Disabled Parents.
- Be Open Minded
Many of us live in privilege and struggle to comprehend the needs of others when it is so vastly different to our own. Keeping an open mind without judgement is very important. This also applies for other people with Disability; I found because my lived experience has been with low vision, it was a new world becoming friends with those in the deaf community. I became aware of my own ignorance and had a lot of learning to do.
One of the loveliest ways to show your support even when you might not fully understand yet, is pre-emptively asking if someone has any access needs when making social plans. For someone with low vision, this might look like someone offering to drive me somewhere or to meet me in a well-lit spot. It really is the small things that are the big things, because we often are already worrying about these things before you’ve asked.
- Consider Accessibility in Music
Where are you holding your next gig? Can everyone attend, including those who use wheelchairs? Can you consider allocating seats for low-vision people closer to the stage? Is the info online or does the ticket website have accessibility functions and is easy to navigate? These are all ways you can support the very large and varied community of those with Disabilities.
Justine also recommends resources from online content creators like @mollyburkeofficial and @PacingPixie.