The award-winning rapper, drummer and producer was born with nystagmus, a condition which is characterized by an involuntary movement of the eyes that limits vision. “Nystagmus was a blessing in disguise,” he tells Mediaplanet. “It made me rely on my hearing, my touch and all the other senses.”

An uncommon affliction

It is not known accurately how common the condition is, but nystagmus is believed to affect around 1 in 1,000 individuals. “It’s hard to live without being able to properly see and trust your eyes, but it made me more independent,” he explains. Nystagmus typically results in visual impairment, but severity varies from person to person. “It has made me have to visualize and compartmentalize everyone and everything around me… it really makes you appreciate everything more.”

A life-changing procedure

“I was lucky enough to come to America and become a Black Eyed Pea, and I want to make sure to never forget where I came from and pay it forward however I can.”

In 2012 the singer, whose birth name is Allan Pineda Lindo, had an artificial lens implanted into each of his eyes to correct his nearsightedness and his nystagmus. “The surgery was such a blessing… it really changed my life,” he reflects. “Now I can see my mom and my loved ones more clearly.”

The operation changed Apl.de.ap’s life on and off stage. He reflects back on performing with the Black Eyed Peas and not being able to see the reaction of the audience in front of him. “It looked like I was performing in front of just shapes of people,” he laughs. “I still don’t depend on my eyes much, though. I learned to grow up without vision, so now it’s just a benefit.”

Paying it forward

Drawing from his own life experiences, Apl.de.ap started a foundation to empower Filipino youth. “I want [everyone] back home to become whatever they want, and being able to see is important in a lot of those jobs,” he shares. The Apl.de.ap Foundation donated a retinal camera to the Philippines, which has been used to diagnose retinopathy of prematurity, a disease that occurs in premature babies and can cause blindness. “I was lucky enough to come to America and become a Black Eyed Pea, and I want to make sure to never forget where I came from and pay it forward however I can.”

A clear future

His advice for the millions of men, women and children who struggle with vision health? Speak up.

“There are specialists and great teams around the world who are trying to do all they can to help overcome vision impairments,” he urges. “While you’re working through it, don’t let it stop you from doing what you want to do. These conditions make it harder, but not impossible. Be strong, move forward and do what you want to do.”