Finding her way: Christina Ebersohl

After Christina Ebersohl started going blind in 2012, she had to learn how to do everything differently: walking, reading, listening — and her passion: playing the viola.

At first she didn’t want to get out of bed. But she soon decided not to give up on herself or her music. She practiced viola five hours a day, learned how to walk with a cane and read braille and enrolled in Portland State’s Honors College as a music major.

The Disability Resource Center helps 1,500 students per year with one-on-one support, adaptive technology, in-class assistance, testing and other services. It also works to remove barriers across campus for people with disabilities.

Location: Smith 116

Contact: 503-725- 4150

PSU’s Disability Resource Center has been there all along to help with one-on-one support, classroom assistants and adaptive technology such as screen reading software, tactile graphics, braille music notation, music apps and other accommodations.

Now in her second year at PSU, Christina spends much of her time in rehearsals for the PSU Orchestra and several string and chamber music ensembles.

When she’s not playing music, she’s memorizing it. She can read braille sheet music, but she can’t do it while playing. That means she has to start learning it weeks before rehearsals begin. She starts by ear, slowing down the music with an app, and then studies the sheet music to make sure she’s not missing any details.

“She’s absolutely amazing and fantastic to work with,” says Jewls Harris, her access counselor. “She’s very positive and enjoys the challenge, I think.”

Christina, 28, grew up in Springfield, Illinois, started piano lessons at age 7 and learned 13 more instruments over the years. When she started learning the viola four years ago, she knew she finally found the right one. “It gave me the goosebumps the first time I picked it up,” she says.

After two years at a community college, she couldn’t afford to transfer to music school, so she enlisted in the Army. She was studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey when she was first hospitalized with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, an inflammatory disease similar to multiple sclerosis. She became legally blind in 2015.

She struggled to adapt, but she says she’s always been a go-getter and her love of music kept her motivated.  

“As I started to pull myself of the depression a little bit, I realized I still have life to live and I have a passion,” she says. “I have things I still want to do, and I can’t let this be the end of me. I’m too ornery to let this be the end of me.”

She won a Gilman Scholarship to study music in Florence, Italy, last summer, navigating a new city with sound instead of sight. She encourages other students to ask for help from the Disability Resource Center if they need it. 

“Everyone here has been so thoughtful and welcoming,” she says. “Their doors are always open, so just come in. They’re all wonderful.”

—By Suzanne Pardington

Photo: Jewls Harris, access counselor and consultant, Disability Resource Center