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The lights go down and Joshua Pearson takes the stage, guitar in hand, harmonica around his neck.

He begins to strum his first tune, a country-blues original he penned on a bus late one night. Musically, Joshua draws inspiration from the likes of Johnny Cash, Billie Holiday, and the blind musician Willie McTell. With McTell, there’s a special connection: Joshua feels his lineage tracing back to other blind bluesmen, like McTell, who traveled the country and shared their music. Joshua has mesmerized audiences in bars and coffee shops, farmers markets and airport lobbies, and porches and train stations across the U.S.

Joshua was inspired to write music after learning about blind blues men like McTell and Willie Johnson. “Hearing those musicians, it was the first time that I realized I could put into songs what I was feeling,” he says. “I’ve experienced ableism my entire life, people making assumptions about what I can and cannot do. Songwriting gave me a language to talk about my frustrations. And by putting my music out there, I could hopefully let somebody else feel some of what I was feeling. Cause that’s what music did for me. It cracked me open.”

“Songwriting gave me a language to talk about my frustrations. And by putting my music out there, I could hopefully let somebody else feel some of what I was feeling. Cause that’s what music did for me. It cracked me open.”

Joshua played his first show at an open mic night in Becket, Massachusetts, about an hour outside of where he grew up, when he was in college. To get to the gig, Joshua used TalkBack, a built-in screen reader that gives spoken feedback so that you can use your device without looking at the screen. Combined with navigation instructions from Google Maps, TalkBack steered Joshua directly to the venue, instructing him on where to go, what bus to take, and how long it would take to get there.

But using TalkBack in this way didn’t just give him directions to the venue—it opened up a whole new world of possibilities. “In a million ways, having an accessible phone totally revolutionized my life,” he says. After that first show, Joshua felt emboldened to venture to other places on his own. He went everywhere from California to Colorado, Georgia to Texas, playing at sandwich shops, dorm rooms, dance halls, and street corners. At one point, he put a big map on his wall and fixed it to a magnetic dart board. “I would throw these darts and wherever they landed, I was like, okay, let me see if I can travel there.”

A photo of Joshua. He is a young man. He plays the harmonica and guitar at the same time while another young man watches him.
When he performs, Joshua sings and plays the guitar and harmonica. He writes song lyrics using TalkBack.

Joshua says that touring by himself wouldn’t be possible without his phone. “TalkBack can read outloud a website so I can book and check into a hotel. It can read descriptions of venues so I can decide where to play. It can read the instructions for posting videos of my music on YouTube. And it can read emails or texts from people I’ve met on the road.”

The technology has even helped him creatively, enabling him to write songs on the move. “TalkBack is like my pen and paper,” he says. “I’ll dictate lyrics into my phone and then TalkBack will read what I’ve written back to me. When a song is complete, I’ll use TalkBack to recite the lyrics for me so that I can commit them to memory and play them at a show.”

“TalkBack is like my pen and paper. I’ll dictate lyrics into my phone and then TalkBack will read what I’ve written back to me. When a song is complete, I’ll use TalkBack to recite the lyrics for me so that I can commit them to memory and play them at a show.”

Joshua often thinks back to when he was younger, when accessible technology was niche and very expensive. “Android technology, in particular, is affordable,” he says. “And by making it affordable, it gives people with disabilities access to the entire world. My music and the way I’m able to travel playing music is proof of that.”

How Joshua does it.

TalkBack.

As he plans his music tours, Joshua uses TalkBack—a feature that reads outloud all text and information on a phone screen— to access venue descriptions, hotel websites, restaurant menus, and emails from fellow musicians.

Joshua turns to TalkBack to navigate public transportation, using the application in conjunction with Google Maps to have street directions and bus schedules spoken out loud to him.

Joshua describes TalkBack as his “pen and paper” that allows him to compose songs from wherever he is on the road. He dictates lyrics into his phone and then has TalkBack read them aloud to him, so he can revise and ultimately memorize them for shows.

Before he could rely on his Android, Joshua says restaurant waiters would often ask the other people at the table what he wanted to eat. “It was demoralizing being treated like I wasn’t capable of ordering at a restaurant,” he says. But with TalkBack he can take a picture of the menu and then have the text read back to him.

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