Episode 26 – Meet Dr. Kirk Adams, President and CEO, American Foundation for the Blind

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Episode Summary

Talk about a man on a mission and a man with a vision, meet Dr. Kirk Adams. Dr. Adams was one of the fortunate children who happen to be blind and whose parents did not stifle his growth but let him explore his world no matter where it led. As an adult, Kirk worked for a time in the financial world, but later he found that his talents went more toward him working in the not-for-profit world.

Today, Dr. Adams leads one of the largest and well-known agencies in the world serving blind people. The AFB today conducts a great deal of research about blindness and explores how to help lead blind persons to be more fully integrated into society.

This week you get to experience Kirk’s visions and thoughts first-hand. I hope you will come away with a different and more inclusive attitude about what blindness really should mean in our world. If you are an employer, take Kirk’s positivity to heart and consider hiring more blind people in your business.

About the Guest

Kirk Adams, Ph.D.
President and CEO
American Foundation for the Blind

As president and chief executive officer of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Kirk Adams, Ph.D. is a longtime champion of people who are blind or visually impaired and is committed to creating a more inclusive, accessible world for the more than 25 million Americans with vision loss.

Dr. Adams has led AFB to a renewed focus on cultivating in-depth and actionable knowledge and promoting understanding of issues affecting children, working-age adults, and older people who are blind or visually impaired. His role involves pursuing strategic relationships with peers, policymakers, employers, and other influencers to engender and accelerate systemic change.

Dr. Adams frequently serves as a keynote speaker at conferences across the country, on topics including education, vocational rehabilitation and workforce participation, vision loss and aging, and technology. He has consulted with top leadership at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, as well as key leaders in the finance, public policy, nonprofit, and tech sectors to discuss topics ranging from product and digital accessibility to civil and disability rights.

Before joining AFB, Dr. Adams was president and CEO of The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. He was a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Disability Employment and the Seattle Public Library’s Strategic Plan Advisory Committee and served on the boards of the National Industries for the Blind, and the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind.

Dr. Adams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and earned his master’s in not-for-profit leadership at Seattle University in Washington. In 2019, he completed his doctorate in Leadership and Change at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio. In 2020, he was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters from SUNY Upstate Medical University.

About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.

Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is an Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.


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Transcription Notes

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Michael Hingson  00:30
access cast and accessibly initiative presents unstoppable mindset. The podcast we’re inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet Hi, I’m Michael Hinkson, Chief vision officer for accessibility and the author of the number one New York Times best selling book thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion and acceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The Unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by excessive B, that’s a cc E, SSI, capital B E, visit www.accessibility.com To learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson  01:50
Hi again, and welcome to another episode of Unstoppable Mindset today. I’m really honored and proud and pleased to invite and have someone on the podcast who I’ve known for a while and he’s he’s moved up through the world of working with blind persons and disabilities over the years. When I first met Kirk Adams, he was the CEO of the Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle. He is now the would it be CEO Kirk, President and CEO, President and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. But more important than that, I mean, that’s just a little thing more important than that. In 2019, he became a PhD he became as my mother used to say a doctor. Anyway, so Kirk Adams, welcome to unstoppable mindset.
Kirk Adams  02:39
Well, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Michael Hingson  02:42
So you, you have been involved in in the blindness world for a while, tell us sort of maybe some of the early parts about you that that, that you want to talk about growing up and how you ended up being involved in blindness and advocacy and all that stuff?
Kirk Adams  02:59
Well, it’s, it’s interesting, and I’ll just kind of start where I am, and then I’ll zip all the way back. But I’m very, very interested in social justice, and a more inclusive society. And of course, the way I come at that is through my lived experience of blindness, and working hard, day and night, to create more opportunities for inclusion for people who are blind in society. And in particular, I’m very interested in employment. As we all know, the workforce participation rate for people are blind is about 30, or 35%, which is about half of the general population. And I say whatever outcomes you’re looking at, it’s either half as good or twice as bad for people who are blind compared to the general population. As far as employment goes, but, you know, I’m at AFP. Now we’re a very much a research focused organization. And when we do research and we look at the factors that lead to successful employment for blind adults, I through good fortune, and mostly not, not on any effort of my own, I lived a life that gave me a lot of those success factors. So it really started when I my retinas detached when I was in kindergarten. I became totally blind within a couple days had a bunch of emergency retinal surgeries that weren’t successful. This was pre laser surgery. And so my parents were told Kirk cannot come back to school here at the neighborhood school, he needs to go to the state school for blankets, and we live north of Seattle. My parents visited the Washington State School in Vancouver were not very impressed with what they saw there. They were both teachers just starting out on their careers. And my retinal specialists, you University of Oregon medical school in Portland, said you should check out the Oregon State School and Salem, it’s great. They visited, they liked it, they quit their jobs moved. So I could go to Oregon State School. And the success factor here is I was totally blind. There was no question. Does he need to learn braille? Does he need to use a cane? There’s there’s so many kids with, you know, varying levels of vision that are not, unfortunately, not always given the right instructional curriculum. So kids are using magnification and audio and not learning braille. But there was no question. And we know that strong blindness skills are a strong predictor of successful employment. So I’ve learned to read and write Braille as a first grader, and type on a typewriter and use a white cane. And a little aside, the one of the happiest days for me is when the Braille book review comes and one came last week, and they’re in the children’s book section is a book by Michael Hinkson. Running with Roselle anyway. Yeah, so there it is. I put it on my request list. I’ll be reading it.
Michael Hingson  06:17
And let me know what you think.
Kirk Adams  06:20
And then, you know, my parents, although they didn’t know any blind people we grew up in. I grew up in small towns, we’re not connected with with blindness organizations, they instinctively did a couple things, right. One is they had very high expectations of me, they expected me to get good grades, and expected me to participate in sports. Expected expected me to do chores, and I didn’t always helped me figure out how to do it. But the high expectations were there. And we see that as well as a predictor that the parents when schools have high expectations of blind kids, they, they they do do well.
Michael Hingson  07:05
Back thinking back on your parents, not telling you how to do it. What what do you think of that? And I’m sure it’s different than what you thought at the time. But what do you say experiences?
Kirk Adams  07:16
Well, I’d say I learned how to it was sink or swim. So I learned how to swim. I was in public school, I was the only blind kid and all my schooling, I kind of had to wing it a lot. And I don’t I don’t think my psycho social deeds were attended to much, but I did, I did learn. And this was another another point, living every day as a blind person, you have opportunities to develop characteristics and some really unique ways and some strengths that the average person may not have around resilience and problem solving and grit and determination and how to work with teams. How to communicate, I got when I when I went to college, and I had some money from the Commission for the Blind to hire readers. So I was 18 years old. I was interviewing and hiring and sometimes firing employees readers and now invoicing and take taking care of the the the the accounts and and those things that my classmates were, we’re not doing. The other the other thing I had early work experience. I was really into sports. My dad was a high school basketball coach, I wrestled ran cross country, and I became the sports editor for the high school paper. And the sports editor for the high school paper got to write a weekly high school sports column for the city weekly paper. So I was a I was a 16 year old sports columnist writing a weekly column for the Snohomish Tribune, showing up my timesheet and getting a check and happily spending that minimum wage. Thing was three 325 an hour, something like that. So again, I had some of these early I had some of these success factors that lead to successful employment for people who are blind. And my opportunity at AF B is to create those opportunities for lots of other blind people. So we develop programs that seek seek to level the playing field for people who are blind, we are focused on employment. And I had the experience as a young college graduate with a good track record and school Phi Beta Kappa and Akun laude and a four point in my field of econ and could not you could not get a job like many young blind people. We are the most highly educated, most underemployed disability group as far as college, college graduation, things like that. So I wanted a job in finance, I started applying for jobs, I wanted to live in Seattle, I went to college in Walla Walla needed to live where there was a bus system. I, you know, sent sent in resumes and cover letters, would get a phone interview, would be invited in for the in person interview, and then the employer would be very confused about why a blind person is coming at applying for this job. How in the world could they do it? So you know, disclose disclosing your disability is the thing, when do you do it? So I wasn’t disclosing until I walked in with my cane, and my slate and stylus, and some braille paper in a folder. And then I started disclosing in my cover letter playing, I’m totally blind. This is how I do what I do. This is how I’ll do the job. And then I wasn’t even getting phone interviews. So yeah, I guess cast my net wider and wider and wider. And I applied for a job with a securities firm a sales job selling tax free municipal bonds. And the sales manager had also gone to Whitman College had also been an econ major, like 15 years before me. So he called some of the professors that we had, and they said, Sure, Kurt can sell tax free bonds over the phone. So I did that for 10 years, straight commission 50 cold calls a day every day builds build strong bones. And when I turned 30, had a had an opportunity to make a change. The firm I was with was purchased by another firm and just a good inflection point. And I got the What color’s your parachute book, out of the Talking Book and Braille library and read it and did all the exercises and got clear that I wanted to be in the nonprofit sector. And I wanted to be in a leadership role. And I wanted to devote the rest of my working life to creating opportunities for people who are blind. So the next little blind kid could have an easier, easier time of it. And I got very interested in leadership, I went back to school and got a master’s degree in not for profit leadership, got involved in nonprofit fundraising, was hired by the lighthouse, Seattle to start their fundraising program and foundation and eventually became the CEO there simultaneous to that. Again, really believing leadership is key to changing our world. I went back to school, as you mentioned, and earned a PhD in leadership and change through Antioch University.
Michael Hingson  13:09
I know the first time the first time I heard you speak was when you came to the National Federation blind convention after just becoming I think the CEO in Atlanta, in Atlanta, I had gone to work for Guide Dogs for the Blind, we were having challenges at gdb because people would not create documentation in an accessible format before meetings. And I recall you talking about the concept of no Braille, no meeting, no
Kirk Adams  13:40
Braille no meeting,
Michael Hingson  13:41
I took right back to them. And it helped a little bit. But it was amazing to see that there was such resistance at such a prestigious organization to hiring and being open to hiring blind people given what they do. And it was, it was a real challenge. Bob Phillips, who was the CEO at the time, created the job that that I had, and I’m sure there will I know there was a lot of resistance to it, but he was the CEO and made it happen. But still, the culture was not oriented toward being open for blind people to to have jobs there. And there are a few blind people working there now, but not even what there was several years ago, which is unfortunate, because there are a lot of things that that could be accomplished by blind people in various aspects of that organization. And as you point out of most organizations, you and I had a lot of very similar life experiences growing up, which is, I think, just evidence of what needs to be done for for kids who are blind and I’m defining blind, as Ken Jernigan used to which was your blind when you lose it If I sight that you have to use alternatives to be able to accomplish tasks and I gather you agree with that. When you were in college, did you have an Office for Students with Disabilities on campus? And if so, how did know?
Kirk Adams  15:14
You didn’t know? Yeah. I went to Whitman College, which was small. You know, I graduated from high school in 1979. So I got a, you know, had the four track cassette player and I got is read by volunteers by Recording for the Blind. And the state provided me with a Perkins Brailler, and the cutting edge technology of an IBM Selectric typewriter with a recent. That’s, that’s what I had.
Michael Hingson  15:46
Well, I asked the question because when I went to, to UC Irvine, we had an office. And Jan Jenkins, early on when I started there, said to me, she lectured me, she said, I want you to understand what I do here, and this is her. She said, I’m here to assist, you need to take responsibility for doing things like going to professor’s if you want books in braille, and getting the the books and, and doing the things that you do. But my job here as a principal in the university is if you can’t get the cooperation you want, then you come to me, and I’ll help you do it, which is such a refreshing attitude, even today. Because in the office is for students with disabilities, mostly today, you come into our office to take a test or we’ll get the information for you, we’ll get the things for you. And as you pointed out so eloquently, students as a result, don’t learn to do it. And and like you I had to hire and fire readers. And and do all of the the same sorts of things that that you had to do. And it’s the only way for us to succeed.
Kirk Adams  16:57
Absolutely. And again, if you if you look at research, and you look at what employers say they want employees for the 21st century, its employees who are resilient and flexible and have grit, and are problem solvers, and are creative and know how to analyze and manage risks and know how to work in teams of diverse people. And in my conversation as well. If you’re looking to win the talent, war, blind people, by the fact of living everyday lived experience of blindness, learn, learn how to do all those things and develop those capabilities, develop those characteristics.
Michael Hingson  17:39
I think I’ve told the story on this podcast before but I like you debated often about whether to say that I’m blind when I’m writing a cover letter for a resume. And in 1989, I was looking for a job. And my wife and I were talking and we found this great job in a newspaper. It was perfect. And I said to her I said well, I say in the cover letter that I’m blind and my wife like wives all over can can say this. She said you’re an idiot. And I said why? And she said you What is it you’ve always said that you learn when you took a Dale Carnegie sales course when you started out selling for Kurzweil? Well, she was ahead of me as often is the case. And finally, she said, you’ve said that you tell every sales person you’ve ever hired and every person that you’ve ever managed in sales, turn perceived liabilities into assets. And I think that’s the key. Because blindness isn’t a liability. It’s a perceived liability. And what I did is I went off and I wrote a letter based on that. And I actually said that I’m blind. And the way I did it was I said in the last paragraph, so the letter, the most important thing that you need to know about me is that I’m blind because as a blind person, I’ve had to sell all of my life just to be able to survive and accomplish anything I’ve had to sell to convince people to let me buy a house, take my guide dog on an airplane, pre ACA, nada, rent an apartment and all that. So when you’re hiring someone, do you want to hire somebody who just comes in for eight or 10 hours a day and then goes home after the job is done? Or do you want to hire somebody who truly understands sales for the science and art that it is and sells as a way of life? So I mean, that that I think is the whole point of perceived liabilities? Well, I did get a phone call from them. They were impressed by that. And I got the job and worked there for eight years. Fantastic. And I think we all need to learn how to win whatever job that we do to take that same sort of approach because I think most any job could adapt that same concept to say why blindness is a perceived liability on the part of the employers and why we’re best for the job because of the way we live.
Kirk Adams  19:59
Perfect. Now I’m thinking about Carol Dweck work on the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset. So it all, it all holds together, you know, access strikes based asset, space, philosophy, etc?
Michael Hingson  20:17
Well, it does. And, you know, blindness is a perceived liability, and is all for us only as much of a liability as we allow it to be.
Kirk Adams  20:26
I think that’s background expectations, too. As I mentioned, before my parents held high expectations of me, therefore, I hold high expectations of myself. Yeah, I know that not every blind kid is in a family situation like that. I’ve talked to many blind parents who are Parents of Blind Children, rather, who don’t first learning their child is blind or going to be blind, just despair, and, you know, feel that their child has no future. And will, there’ll be a caretaker role. And so it’s really, really important that the high expectations get established early on. And like I say, not not every point blank kid is born into a family that’s going to do that, automatically. So that’s, that’s an opportunity for all of us who are blind, to talk to parents of blind kids, and something I really enjoy doing, and letting them know that, you know, your, your kiddo can do whatever they want to do, as long as they are given the right tools and supports, and the opportunity.
Michael Hingson  21:36
Yeah, how do we get parents who feel desperation and so on? How do we get them to change their minds?
Kirk Adams  21:48
Well, I think that’s exposure. And I think exposure to blind adults, successful blind adults, I am a big advocate for both consumer groups. So if someone’s listening and are not connected with plain adults playing people, for the National Federation of blind American Council of the Blind, comes in different flavors, they have chapters and and different groups and affinity groups. And I would suggest checking it out. I think that’s one way. I think that’s an important way in the same in the workplace. And, you know, again, I’ll keep harping on research. You know, it’s shown that if a department or a manager hires a blind person, they’re much more likely to hire another blind person, you know, then than another department hiring their first blind person. So, you know, familiarity, understanding the capabilities, and understanding that people are people with the same emotions and tribes and hopes and dreams and all the things I will before before I forget, I’m mentioned at work workplace technology study that we just did. And it was very well designed. We did We did focus groups interviewed then created a, an online survey then did in depth, in depth interviews, just to understand the dynamics of technology in the workplace, for people who are applying, what’s working, what’s not working, what tools do people use for which functions, and it’s available on our website, so FB dot o RG? Easy, easy website to remember that we’ve done. We’ve done four or five, I think, really important studies in the last couple of years and and all that data is there.
Michael Hingson  23:36
You were talking a little bit earlier about what employers are looking for in terms of being flexible and so on? Where does loyalty fit into all that in today’s world? You know, you used to hear about people staying in jobs for most of their whole time. And now it’s a lot different. But where does loyalty fit?
Kirk Adams  24:01
That is a super interesting question. And I don’t think there’s clarity on that. And I was just reading an article this morning about the 10 greatest risks faced by corporate corporate boards, and one of them was the uncertainty of what the workplace is going to look like, in the future. Strategically, how do you build your workforce and your talent pool, not knowing exactly what the workplace is going going to look like? So a couple a couple things that come to mind. One One is that people change careers. I can’t cite this. I can’t cite the numbers, but something like seven, seven or eight job changes now and a lifetime of work. And the trick is to manage that person’s career path. While keeping them in your organization, if you value them, and you find that they’re a great contributor, and you don’t want to lose them. So it’s a different type of conversation, what? You, you try it HR, you don’t like it that much, you’d rather be in it, how to recreate a pathway to keep a person within the organization. And then then the next thing we have, we’ve had the great resignation here with COVID. And so many people, it’s been a wake up call for so many people to say, Hey, I’m Life is too short, I want to do something that’s meaningful, I want to do I want to live well, I moved from the East Coast back to Seattle, to be closer to closer to family. So people are making those kinds of life based decisions that I think are much greater right now. I would say that the shifting landscape and employment I believe will create more opportunities for people who are blind as remote work, telework and hybrid work situations become normalized. You know, there, there is language in our statutes that says, setting up a person to work with a disability work from home is the accommodation of last resort. That was the, you know, the assumption was that everyone needed to go into the office, and everyone needed to be in a building with their co workers. And to set up a person to work for from home was the the last accommodation that should be considered. And I think that’s, that’s been flipped. Now. So I’m really, I’m really excited to see what it’s going to look like.
Michael Hingson  26:44
I think that it is a, it is a moving target for everyone. And the key is to not allow blind people to be part of that flip. And I think that’s that you’re exactly right, it will be interesting to see where it goes, I asked you that question, because one of the things that I’ve often heard is, a blind person who is hired to work somewhere, will tend to be more loyal and want to stay there, rather, and will do a better job as a result rather
Kirk Adams  27:17
than and that’s going out of that and that’s verifiable. Look at Disability Research, DuPont did a really long longitudinal study 5060s 70s that people with disabilities are, they have less turnover, you have less absenteeism. Morale, in work groups goes up. customer perceptions improve. So there’s there’s a lot of there’s good business cases for employers to include people with disabilities.
Michael Hingson  27:55
Yeah, it makes good sense. And, and, you know, we, we see in so many different ways that there are advantages to being blind, which which all of us also need to learn how to explain. And an emphasize another one that comes to mind. We’ve used it excessively a fair amount is the concept of brand loyalty, which is a little different. But the Nielsen Company did a study in 2016, talking about the fact that people with disabilities in general, and I’m going to narrow it to blind people tend to be a lot more brand loyalty to the companies online that give them access to their stuff, because they don’t have to slave and work so hard to get access to it. And they’re going to continue to work with those companies. That make sense to me. It is, it is just absolutely relevant that that we need to to get more of those messages out and make it happen. Of course, that’s one of the reasons that we have unstoppable mindset is to hopefully educate people about some of these things, because it makes perfect sense to do. And there’s no reason why we can’t get get better access. It’s just a matter of educating employers and a lot of decision makers who are not blind that we’re, we’re actually an asset to them.
Kirk Adams  29:16
Yeah, and I again, I’ll mention an AFP. I think one of our crown jewels is our annual leadership conference. It’ll be May 2 and third in Arlington, Virginia. When I first went to work for the satellite house in 2000, the person who hired me said if you want to get to know the blindness field, you need to go to the AFP conference. So I went to my first in 2001 I’ve never missed and it’s it’s fairly unique in that we bring together all the stakeholders so we bring leaders from voc rehab for the the federal agencies, nonprofit CEOs, corporate diversity, inclusion and access ability folks, academic researchers, blindness advocates advocates into the same space. And that’s a really interesting thing to do. Because those groups don’t often talk to one another. Although they, they would, they would all say they share a common goal in improving employment outcomes for people are blind. There’s a really cool research study where they asked VR counselors and HR hiring managers, the same set of questions. And the one that stands out to me was the question was what what is the greatest barrier to successful employment of people who are blind, and the the VR counselor said, attitudes of employers, perceptions of the employer, and the employer said, lack of understanding of our business needs on the point of VR. So, you know, both groups would say they are very dedicated to improving employment outcomes, but but they come at it from from different angles. So, AFP Leadership Conference is a place where we, we bring all those stakeholders together in conversation. So it’s, it’s pretty cool.
Michael Hingson  31:14
And hopefully, you can get them to communicate a little bit more with each other. Yes. I don’t know. It is it is interesting. Do you ever watch the ABC ABC show? What would you do? I have not. Have you ever heard of it?
Kirk Adams  31:30
I don’t think
Michael Hingson  31:31
so. Duncan Jonas, has run the show in the summer, every year for a number of years. And one of the the whole premise of the show is that they bring in actors to play roles. And see how the, the people who are around them react. So for example, on one show is actually one of the first shows they brought in a an actor to play a barista at a coffee shop. And this was, I think, put on or created by the Rochester Institute for the Deaf. They brought in two women, deaf people, and there was a job posting and they went in and applied for the job. And the whole process for the decrease barista was to simply say, No, you’re deaf, you can’t do the job. And, and he did a really good job of that. But these, these two deaf people kept saying, well, we could do the job. This is a kitchen job. You’re not asking for me to even interact with customers all the time. And he said, Well, what if there’s something I need you to do? Well, you can write it down, or I can read lips, and he just continued to resist, which was great. But during the day that they did this, there were three HR people who came in. And they after listening to all this for a while, pulled the barista aside, and they said, you’re handling this all wrong, these people have more rights than the rest of us. Just take the application and write on it. It’s not a good fit. But don’t don’t keep arguing. It was it was fascinating that the HR people did that. So there is a there is a problem with HR. But again, that’s what we have to help educate in, in all that we do too. So I’m glad to to see what you’re doing and that you are bringing people together. I’ve I’ve been to a couple of the leadership conferences, but not not lately.
Kirk Adams  33:34
Well, we’ll see. We’ll see you in May. But I’ve got to work that out. But the workplace technology study I mentioned earlier, there’s there’s real data there from real people. Current so we can show HR managers that, hey, blind people report that part of your recruiting process involves some sort of online exercise or test 60% of your blind and low vision, people are having challenges accessibility challenges with that, you know, 30% of the people you’re hiring, are having problems with your employee onboarding processes. So you know, there’s anecdotal stories, there’s complaints, but now we have real data. So it’s really intended for the HR manager, the IT manager, and assistive technology developers to really show what’s what’s actually happening. You know, how your blind employees are needing to take work home and use their own equipment and work more hours. And, you know, they’re having having to ask sighted colleagues to do essential steps in their processes. And I know people hear those stories, but now we’ve got we’ve got numbers and we got statistics. And you know, and I HR person doesn’t want to say Yeah, 30% of this group of people is having problems with my onboarding process. You know that that’s, that’s a number that is going to get some attention, we think.
Michael Hingson  35:12
We hope so. And we hope that we can continue to find ways to, to get people to be a little bit more aware of all this, because accessibility to the tools is, is one of the biggest challenges we face. You know, that’s why I joined accessibe. B last year, because I saw that there were opportunities and accessibility has even expanded a lot. And is saying that what it does to create internet access, which began with an artificial intelligence system that does a good job with some websites and a significant part of websites, but also doesn’t necessarily do everything in an accessible he has now put together additional processes to create human intervention to help with the rest of it. But excessive he also wants to educate people about web access, whether they use excessive these products or not, because the feeling is we’ve got to do more to educate people in that exactly what makes sense to do.
Kirk Adams  36:13
Yes, and as I mentioned, before, we began our recorded part of our conversation, FB, NFB ACB, and the national rights Disability Network have drafted a joint letter to the Department of Justice, asking them to implement the web and app accessibility regulations that they are empowered to enact. And we have sign on letter. Again, you can go to afp.org, for more information, and we’re looking for disability and civil rights organizations who want to join us and Ernie urging the Department of Justice to do that. Because it’s so meaningful. I am a I’m not a high tech person. I like you said, I’m brand loyal to a small, small number of retail websites. But we also did a study last year, as part of what Mississippi State National Research and Training Center on blindness was doing. They contracted with AFP, we looked at 30 corporate websites, and we looked at specifically at their recruiting and hiring portals. And there’s lots of accessibility issues. So they’re there. So
Michael Hingson  37:42
five away compliance for the government. Yeah.
Kirk Adams  37:45
Yes. So whatever we add FB can do to change that landscape to change the way institutions, government, nonprofit corporate address, inclusion, put it under the umbrella of digital inclusion. You know, I think it’s somewhat similar to we’ve more from diversity to inclusion. In our language, I think we’ve more from the digital divide to digital inclusion, which I think as a much more proactive concept.
Michael Hingson  38:21
A speech I’ve given for years is actually titled moving from diversity to inclusion, because diversity is doesn’t even include us anymore. Which is unfortunate. And so we’ve got to go to to something that makes more sense. And you’re either inclusive or you’re not, you can’t be partially inclusive, because then you’re not inclusive.
Kirk Adams  38:40
There you go. Like it makes I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m stealing that one here. Welcome
Michael Hingson  38:46
to have it, it’s You go right ahead. Because you either are inclusive, or you’re not, it’s a quantum jump in you can’t be partially inclusive and say you’re inclusive. You shouldn’t be able to say you’re partially diverse. And so you’re diverse, because but but you know, that ship has kind of sailed. But I think it is something that that we need to do. And it’s all about education. And it’s all about finding ways to give kids at a young age the opportunity that you talked about Braille earlier. How do we get the educational world to recognize, again, the value of Braille and what’s happening with that? Oh, boy. I know that was a loaded question.
Kirk Adams  39:36
That’s that’s that’s my my personal soapbox, which I can can get oh, I don’t know how to do it, other than frame it in terms of literacy. It is a literacy question. Reading is reading listening to something as listening to something writing is reading writing, you know, if if we didn’t need to read and write and cited kids wouldn’t be taught how to read and write. It’s just a matter of efficiency and efficacy and art and being being a human human being in a literate society. So there’s some there. There are some numbers embedded in some of our research, that that show the number of employed respondents who are Braille readers or use Braille displays. There are some there were some numbers generated 30 years ago that indicated that 90% of of blind people who are employed read Braille, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Now, based on what we can infer from from our surveys. Does that I’m not sure what that means. So I I will say, to answer your question, I don’t know. And we need to figure it out. So I will take 10 I think that’s some deep research questions. But I would be energized to explore
Michael Hingson  41:15
take what you said to another level, let’s let’s say your right 30 years ago, 90% of employed blind people were Braille readers. And that number has dropped. Just for the sake of discussion, let’s say significantly. The other thing that immediately comes to mind is how far people who are blind especially who are not Braille readers today are advancing as opposed to Braille readers. Because Braille is the, the means of reading and writing, I know so many people who are partially blind, who have grown up, not having the opportunity to learn to read Braille, who are very blunt about saying, if we had only been able to learn to read and write Braille, we would have been a lot better off because it’s just so much slower and harder for us today.
Kirk Adams  42:14
Yeah, so I hear people with those same, same regrets. And, again, it’s back to what I said earlier that as a, becoming totally blind at age five, there was no question I knew I was going to learn braille, and I was instructed in Braille. And, you know, it wasn’t a question or debate. Who, who, you know, who knows what would have happened if I would have had enough usable vision to read with magnification? So I like I guess, along the same lines, is what you mentioned about Doctor turning his definition of blind, you know, if, if a child cannot read at the same rate as their sighted classmate using magnification, they need to learn braille, so they can read read just as fast as their kid at the next desk, you know,
Michael Hingson  43:03
otherwise, why do we teach sighted kids to read just let them watch TV which is, which is another, which is another technology and art form or whatever, that that isn’t as creative in some ways as it used to be, but they’re also good shows. So I guess we got to cope with that, too.
Kirk Adams  43:24
But yeah, audio description is not not our thing. Although we appreciate it immensely. And I know some other blindness organizations are really carrying the torch to increase the amount of audio description. But that just brings to mind that accessibility and innovation around accessibility for people with with particular disabilities is good for everybody. Yeah, and I know, my, my wife, she’s puttering around the kitchen, and there’s a movie on, she’ll put the audio audio description on, you know, so she can, she can follow it. When I was at the lighthouse in Seattle, we worked with Metro Transit to put larger bus numbers with contrasting colors, because we have had a lot of employees with ARPI. A lot of Dateline, employees with ushers, and they did enlarge the bus numbers and put them in contrasting colors. And they said they had more positive comments from their general ridership about that than anything they’ve done. Because it made it easier for people with 2020 vision to see if that was their bus coming. Sure. So simple, simple example. But yeah, one of
Michael Hingson  44:45
the things that one of the things that really surprises me still, and I’ve mentioned it before, and so it’s one of my soap boxes is Apple, put voiceover partly because they were compelled To do it, but put VoiceOver on iPhones, iPods, iTunes, you and all that, but on iPhones and iPods and the Mac, they put voiceover, they created it. But I’m very surprised that in the automotive world, they haven’t done more to make voiceover a part of the driver experience so that people don’t have to go look at screens on their iPhones or whatever. As opposed to being able to use VoiceOver, because clearly, it would be a very advantageous thing. And I also think of like the Tesla, which uses a screen including a touchscreen for everything. And my gosh, yeah, you can do a little bit more of that, because the Tesla has co pilot that allows you to interact in some other ways, although you’re still supposed to keep your hands on the wheel and all that, but why aren’t they using voice technology more than they are?
Kirk Adams  45:53
That’s a good question that I can’t answer.
Michael Hingson  45:56
I know, it’s, it’s, I’ve never heard a good explanation of it as to why they don’t. And it makes perfect sense to do it. The voices are very understandable, much less dealing with Android and so on. But no one is using the voice technology and the voice output to take the place of of screens, which is crazy, much less voice input. So it is it is a mystery. And it is one of those things that it would be great if people would would consider doing more of that the automotive industries missing out and of course, we as blind people are the ones who bring that opportunity to them will take credit.
Kirk Adams  46:34
There you go. Well, you know, when when I was walking around with my four track, cassette player listening to textbooks, I was the, you know, the the oddity in school, and now everyone listens to Audible books. Right, right.
Michael Hingson  46:51
It’s a common thing. And now not only that, you can use things like bone conducting headphones, so you can listen to your audio as you walk around and still hear what else is going on. So you’re a little bit safer.
Kirk Adams  47:05
Yeah, I don’t know how far afield you want to get in this conversation. But you know, indoor wayfinding navigation systems, many people are trying to figure that that out, you know, the GPS systems work pretty well when you’re outdoors. But when when you’re indoors, what are the wayfinding tools that are that are emerging? And you know, I’m thinking about haptics and, yes, different modes of receiving information than then audibly, because most of the adaptations accommodations for people who are blind tend to be audible. And if you get 234 things going at once you get you get a diminishing marginal utility there. And then at some point, you know, becomes counterproductive if too much is going on audibly. So I’m, I’m I went to Consumer Electronics Show ces for the first time, this past January. And I was very interested, I was very interested in kind of the the emerging use of different modes of conveying information, either through vibration or temperature or airflow, different types of information. So lots of smart people out there, trying to figure out ways to make make us all live better.
Michael Hingson  48:35
Yeah, I will have to hunt down Mike Mae and get him on the show, because he can certainly talk our ears off about indoor navigation integration, you should haven’t done that. I’ve got to get hold of Mike, I think that would be cool. But it is all part of as you said, making all of our lives better. And the whole concept of virtual reality is something that all of us can take advantage of and use. And again, a lot of the things that that come about because of some of these developments actually started with with blindness. I mean, look at Ray Kurzweil with the Kurzweil Reading Machine, he developed the technology to be able to let a camera build a picture of a page of print. And his first choice was to develop a machine that would read out loud of course for blind people. Percy took it further after that, and now OCR is a way of life but it did start with Ray without machine, the Kurzweil Reading Machine for the blind.
Kirk Adams  49:37
Yep. Remember, it becomes a washing machine. Now Yeah, we can just now you can do with your iPhone.
Michael Hingson  49:43
You can and better how much our computer processes have have evolved over the years. It’s really pretty incredible, isn’t it? It really, really is. And you know, but technology is all around us. And it, it is a it is a good thing. But again, it’s all about how we use it and how we envision it being used. So it again, it gets back to the discussion that we had about Braille. You know, people say, Well, you don’t need Braille because you can use recordings and all right, well, that’s just not true. Why is it that we should be treated differently? Why should our exposure to being able to read and write be different than people who have eyesight because reading and writing with Braille is really equivalent to reading and writing with, with printed page or pens and pencils, or typewriters now that I knew mentioned running with Roselle earlier, I remember, sitting on an airplane going, I think I was flying back to California from somewhere. And we were going through many revisions of running with Roselle at the time and Jeanette Hanscom, who was my colleague in writing that who writes children’s books, so she was able to make the words something that we felt would be more relevant for kids, although I gotta tell you more adults by running orthros health and then children do so I’ve heard. But I spent the entire time flying from the East Coast to the West Coast, going through an editing, running with Roselle. And I was using a computer that talked but I also know that the skills that I learned as a braille reader gave me the ability to catch nuances and so on, that I never would have been able to learn to catch if I hadn’t learned how to truly be able to read a book. And we edited the book. And you know, it is where it is today.
Kirk Adams  51:45
Well, it’s on its way to me from the Talking Book and Braille library. I look forward to reading it. Congratulations on yet another publication Good on you.
Michael Hingson  51:56
Well, thank you, we’re working now towards another one. Writing about fear, and especially with the pandemic all around us. And, gosh, fear has taken on many forms, some of which are understandable, and some of which are ridiculous. But we’re we’re looking at the fact that well, when I left the World Trade Center, I didn’t exhibit fear. And that was because I learned what to do, and approach to the day when an unexpected emergency happen from a standpoint of knowledge. And I had actually, as I realized, over the last couple of years developed a mindset that if something were to occur, I mean, obviously something could happen. And we could have been smashed by something, but but without that happening, I could step back and quickly analyze whatever situation was occurring as we were going down the stairs or getting out. And I could focus on that and let the fear that I had not overwhelm me, but rather instead be a mechanism to keep me focused. So it’s developing the mindset. So we’re, we’re working on it, and we’ve got proposal out to publishers, so we’re hoping that that’s going to go well. And, you know, we’ll
Kirk Adams  53:18
see. Well, as mentioned earlier, I am president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. And as such, I am scheduled to be on a zoom call with our Finance and Investment Committee of our Board of Trustees.
Michael Hingson  53:33
Well, we’re gonna we’re gonna let you go. But I’d like you to want to tell us if people want to reach out or if he wherever you want them to go to to learn more about AARP or you and reach out to you yeah,
Kirk Adams  53:45
FB dot o RG is the website. My email address, if you want to email me is my first initial K my last name Adams, K da ms at AFB dot o RG. And AFP and myself are present on social media. And you can find us easily and we’d love to connect. Get your thoughts, share our thoughts. Check out the Leadership Conference, May 2 and third in Arlington, Virginia and go to fb.org and look at our research.
Michael Hingson  54:20
Well, perfect. Well thank you very much for being with us today on unstoppable mindset. We very much appreciate your your time and hope that we’ll be able to chat some more.
Kirk Adams  54:29
All right, Michael, keep up the good work.
Michael Hingson  54:32
We’ll do it. If you’d like to learn more about unstoppable mindset, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com/podcast Or go to wherever you listen to other podcasts. We have a number of episodes up we’d love to also hear from you. You can reach me directly at Michael H AI that’s ni ch AE L H AI at accessibly ACs. c e ss ibe.com. So Michael hai at accessible comm we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got suggestions of people you think that we ought to have on the podcast, please let me know. We’re always looking for guests if you want to be a guest, let us know about that as well. And most important of all, please, after listening to this, we’d appreciate it if you would give us a five star rating in wherever you’re listening to podcasts. The ratings help us and they help us show other people that we’re doing something of interest. So if you feel that way, please give us a five star rating. Thanks again for visiting us today. And we’ll see you next week with another episode of unstoppable mindset the podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet.
Michael Hingson  55:51
You have been listening to the unstoppable mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hinkson.com/podcast. Michael Hinkson is spelled ma ch AE l h i n g s o n y you’re on the site. Please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hinkson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hinkson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free ebook entitled blinded by fear. The Unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessibility and is sponsored by SSP. Please visit www.accessibly.com accessibly is spelled a cc e SSI B E. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.

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