Blind 17-year-old doesn’t let loss of eyesight keep her from being standout violinist

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Ashlee Thao is exceptional in every sense of the word, overcoming a true obstacle and becoming a big success in her community.

"I can get through this with God's help," Thao said. "I was born with full vision. I know that we are all flawed and we have different weaknesses, but those weaknesses, I guess, they empower us to become better people."

The 17-year-old is a senior at Shawnee Mission South High School. She's a standout musician, playing both the piano and violin.

"Playing the piano and playing the violin can still be extremely visual," Thao said.

It's especially visual for someone who's blind.

"I think it amplifies what I am doing," Thao said.

Thao said lost her vision as an infant.

"When I reached 6 months, I had cataracts," she said.

Surgeries to remove scar tissue were ineffective, and now, only 2 percent of the receptors in her eyes work.

"I don't really see it as a disability," Thao said. "I see it, like I said, as a tool."

Jonathan has been Thao's orchestra teacher for the past seven years.

"She's one of the hardest workers that I have ever met," he said.

Wiebe said the 17-year-old has a special spark about her.

"She's going to be incredibly successful," Wiebe said.

Thao wants to compose music for major motion pictures one day and is working hard to make her dream a reality.

"Visually impaired people and blind people can do things just as everybody else can do," she said.

Jeri Hile, a teacher for the visually impaired, agrees.

"She has a real drive to excel and to learn all she can," Hile said. "She has a real thirst for knowledge. Her blindness doesn't define her."

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