Out of sight, out of mind: Paradise Valley musician thrives

Matthew Bullis (photo by Robert Westerman)

Matthew Bullis (photo by Robert Westerman)

For a Paradise Valley resident, his disability is usually not the first thing people notice about him.

Matthew Bullis, 37, is technologically savvy, has his own place and is a talented musician. He is also blind.

“Every time you read about someone who is blind they are always portrayed as inspirations,” Mr. Bullis said. “Being blind is part of who I am but it doesn’t define me.”

Mr. Bullis is credited by his piano instructor as having perfect pitch.

“It’s a myth that blind people’s ears are better. We just use them more,” Mr. Bullis said. “For a lot of blind people, audio is our world. The same way as sighted people are stimulated by tv, we are stimulated by sound.”

He grew up with an affinity for music. Though he was reluctant to learn any instruments initially.

“I was worried that learning guitar would hurt my fingers and I wouldn’t be able to read braille, but that wasn’t the case,” Mr. Bullis said. “I taught myself at age 20 and added autoharp, harmonica and everything else I could get my hands on after that.”

He is proficient in over six instruments including the guitar, the autoharp (a zither-like instrument), the banjo, the mandolin, the harmonica and the piano.

“Despite being knowledgable on the guitar, it’s his ability of playing a rare instrument like the autoharp that really stands out,” Richard Russo, Mr. Bullis’ piano instructor, said.

Mr. Bullis maintains that for him music isn’t about about making money, though it is always a nice bonus. He enjoys to play because when he does he is seen as a talented individual, and not as a person crippled by a disability.

“Other instruments that I play are derivatives such as the Bouzouki and the accordion,” Mr. Bullis said. “When I arrive at a performance people focus on the instrument and what I can do with it and not the fact that I am blind.”

Mr. Bullis works as an Assistive Technology Teacher in the Adult Services Department of the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix.
His younger brother attributes his success in Information Technology to him. Mr. Bullis was given a computer that ran on MS-DOS in 1996 and was trained by a local professional in Florida, where he lived at the time.

“He turned me on  to technology. I started using the computer he was given,” Michael Bullis, 36, a Systems Administrator, said. “We sort of fed each other in the sense that he had to learn to keep me out of it, and I had to learn to get into it.”

The older Bullis has been living independently for the past six years. He moved into a self-sustained apartment connected to the home of his younger brother and his brother’s wife.

“It’s different for everyone and how their family reacts.” Mr. Bullis said.

While his family is glad to lend a helping hand, for the most part he takes care of himself. He relies on Dial-A-Ride for transportation and pays his own bills.

Mr. Bullis was born prematurely and although the issue of retinopathy of prematurity was a common problem addressed in the 1950s, at the time it was known as retrolental fibroplasia, Mr. Bullis lost his vision during his infancy due to the high oxygen levels which caused the blood vessels to become overdeveloped. This in turn caused the scarring that would damage his retinas.

“Three months too early and too much oxygen,” Mr. Bullis said.

Bullis’ mother lives in Virginia with her current husband. His father lives in Southeast Asia.

“I live in Indonesia, I don’t worry about him any more than I would my other son.” Ray Bullis, his father, said. “Matthew is just like any other person. Disabilities are more noticeable to those who don’t have them.

Editor's Note: Mr. Torres is a student journalist at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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