The 58th Annual Grammy Awards was held in Los Angeles on February 15, 2016. Artists representing every genre of music packed the Staples Center as fans from all over the country watched for performances and fashion alike. With so many losses felt within the music community since the beginning of the year, Stevie Wonder and Penatonix honored Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White with an emotional performance of “That’s the Way of the World.” Wonder, who became blind shortly after birth, then preceded to remain on stage as Penatonix members read the Grammy nominees for “Song of the Year.”
After video played, the camera cut back to Stevie Wonder, who was holding the winner’s card. As he began to fumble with the card, attempting to open its seal, Wonder murmured, “So, I’m gonna break this open, pop it open… you know, what the hell?” The audience laughed while Penatonix members awkwardly looked on, seemingly wondering if they should intervene or let the music icon continue to open the envelope.
Wonder quickly attained success and upon turning the card towards the audience, it appeared to be blank.
“OK, so you all can’t read this huh? You can’t read it; you can’t read Braille. Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah Nah.”
The audience erupted with laughter. Stevie, glided his fingers over the dots adding, “I just want to say before saying the winner, that we need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.” The audience applauded Wonder as Ed Sheeran took home the win for his song, “Thinking Out Loud.”
As a blind woman, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Stevie Wonder since losing my vision in 2012. As one of the most famous blind people in the entertainment world, people often say to me, “Oh, I can name a blind person, (pause) Stevie Wonder.”
I also get asked, “Do ‘you’ know Stevie Wonder?”
Know him? Of course I know who he is. I’ve heard his music. Are we going out to dinner or texting each other daily? In a word… no.
Surprising as it may sound, not all blind people hang out together. We exist in this world. We participate in our communities, and if we do happen to encounter a fellow individual with a visual impairment, then yeah, we compare notes. Maybe we swap numbers, similar to sighted people when they meet someone who shares a similar interest.
I know enough about Stevie Wonder to expect a great performance, but I was equally surprised by the Grammys’ choice to have him hold the winner’s card. Even as a blind woman, I was thinking, “Man, is somebody going to help him with that envelope?” and “How is he going to read that thing?”
Well, Stevie showed me. Hell, he showed the entire musical community. A blind man read and announced a Grammy winner.
He didn’t need assistance. He didn’t require a sighted person to do the job. He just did it. Elegantly. Professionally. Perfectly.
But beyond that, Stevie Wonder lightheartedly used the opportunity, perhaps even unbeknownst to him, to educate the world about “inclusion.”
“We need to make every singe thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”
Inclusion for all, whether it’s the blind celebrity announcing the Grammy winner or the autistic child looking for matriculated classes in their school. The disabled community craves accessibility. We sometimes require accommodation. But we all, disabled or not, want inclusion.
The next time someone asks me if I “know” Stevie Wonder, I won’t be frustrated by their innocent ignorance. Instead, I will proudly say, “Yes, he’s the guy who killed it at the 2016 Grammys by showing the world how accessibility for the disabled community is so empowering.”