Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A songwriter’s Struggle with Blindness, Breast Cancer & More

Donna Hill, blind songwriter/recording artist and avid knitter, presents pink afghan with “Buddy Check” in Braille to Lyndall Stout at WYOU’s studios in Wilkes-Barre.
Photo by Rich Hill

Hunter in Donna's lap. Photo by Rich Hill.

Read Donna's inspirational story, "Butterflies & Me, the healing touch: a breast cancer survival story"


Donna Hill, Head of Media Relations,
Performing Arts Division, National Federation of the Blind,
(570) 833-2708
Photos/Interviews/Info upon request

Overcoming Adversity, a Matter of Perseverance

A songwriter’s Struggle with Blindness, Breast Cancer & More

Donna Hill (58, Auburn Township, PA) has been through it all and come out smiling. Legally blind from birth and a two-time breast cancer survivor, Donna, who has three albums of original music, writes, sings and speaks about success, perseverance, the importance of monthly breast self exams and the realities of being blind in America. Her volunteer efforts are now helping young blind performers.

When she talks to young people about overcoming adversity, Hill tells them about those who said she would never graduate from college, live independently or marry. She then asks them if they think that she knew all along that those people were wrong. Invariably they say, “Yes.”

“Actually,” she says, “I was afraid they were probably right; the difference was that I did not want them to be right.”

“Unfortunately,” Donna continues,”Many of us are programmed to believe that the people who overcome obstacles are those who never doubt that they will and are never afraid. Most of us, however, stumble, fall and pick ourselves up again and again on our journey through life’s road-blocks.”

“Teachers would either assume I was faking my vision problem, or they wouldn’t let me try anything,” says Donna, who was mainstreamed in public school in the fifties, where she received little help and was subjected to bullying. After graduating from college, she taught herself Braille and received her first of four guide dogs from the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (Smithtown, NY).

After working as a welfare caseworker in Philadelphia, Donna began pursuing her childhood dreams of supporting herself as a musician. Hill, who taught herself to play guitar, had been writing songs since she was fourteen. . A regular street performer and her own agent, Donna became a popular Philadelphia area motivational speaker/singer. Her albums include: “Rainbow Colors” (1983) and “Harvest (1988) as Donna Weiss and “The Last Straw” (1992) as Donna Hill (

As for breast cancer– both times, she found it herself, despite negative mammograms. The first diagnosis came while recording her third album. The second came after finishing it, as she planned to move to Nashville.

“The second cancer was less complicated,” she says, “But, my dreams were blowing up in my face. I didn’t know how to go on without them.”

Though the financial and energy drain delayed her, Donna is back stronger than ever. After moving to rural Susquehanna County – something she and husband Rich planned to do anyway, she mastered the use of a computer with a screen reader.

In 2007, President Dennis Holston of the nonprofit Performing Arts Division of the National Federation of the Blind (PAD,NFB) asked Hill to donate her song “The Edge of the Line” with its hard-hitting, social commentary to the “Sound in Sight” CD ( “Sound in Sight” is an interracial, multi-genre compilation of original songs and covers by promising blind recording artists from across the nation. Proceeds fund the Mary Ann Parks Performing Arts Scholarship.

Like many of the artists on “Sound in Sight” Donna has gone on to take a leadership role in PAD. She was recently appointed Head of Media Relations, a volunteer post.

Hill is motivated by the continued struggles of blind Americans to gain acceptance and opportunity -- problems that persist despite legislative change, advances in technology and the extraordinary achievements of some blind individuals. Two thirds of working age, blind Americans are “un”employed. Many live in poverty. Only ten percent of blind kids are taught Braille, despite strong Braille literacy/success links.

“There hasn’t been a new, blind American superstar in decades, says Hill, “And, Helen Keller, who died over fifty years ago, is still the only blind woman most people can name. I’m hoping our work at PAD will elevate a new generation of blind performers to the national stage.”

Issues affecting blind Americans rarely make mainstream news. Hill, who enjoys long walks, knitting and camping, knows that strong media presence helps other minorities. She believes helping blind entertainers gain the national spotlight will improve public acceptance and opportunity for all blind Americans.


About the National Federation of the Blind: With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States. The NFB improves blind people’s lives through advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence.

It is the leading force in the blindness field today and the voice of the nation's blind. In January 2004 the NFB opened the National Federation of the

Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.


Anonymous said...

Aww very inspirational!

Dawn Colclasure said...

Thanks for the comment, Nancy. :) I thought it was really inspiring, too.