Kirk Adams sits down with the Blind Abilities team members Pete Lane and Jeff Thompson for this informative podcast on the American Foundation for the Blind. Kirk talks about the history and some of the latest happenings at AFB and the resources available to all students, teachers, TVI’s and parents. You can find a multiple of categories of articles ranging in topics from Transitioning to college,Life skills, Work Preparedness, Access Technology, Parents of Blind Children and much more.
You can find out about the apps available from AFB that put the information in the palm of your hand.
Kirk also mentions the AFB Leadership Conference coming up on April 5-7 2018 in Oakland, California. Where AFB brings together all the entities around Blindness can be part of the conversation.
Check out AFB.org on the web and download their apps so you can stay in touch with the latest happenings and information available from the American Foundation for the Blind.
Check out the Apps below!
This is the official app of the American Foundation for the Blind’s online publication AccessWorld.
AccessWorld is an online magazine dedicated to technology and people with vision loss
This app has been optimized for iOS VoiceOver and Accessibility features.
With this free app you can:
• Browse and read articles from the latest issue of AccessWorld.
• Browse and read any article in AccessWorld’s entire archive of back issues.
• Contact any member of the AccessWorld team.
AFB Career Connect:
This is the official app of the American Foundation for the Blind’s resource center AFB CareerConnect.
AFB CareerConnect is a free online resource center specific to career exploration, job seeking skills, transition from school to work, e-mentoring, and navigating the employment process as a person who is blind or visually impaired.
This app has been optimized for iOS VoiceOver and Accessibility features.
With this free app you can: · Browse and utilize transition lesson plans from AFB CareerConnect · Browse and read “Our Stories,” firsthand accounts from AFB CareerConnect mentors · Browse and read blog posts from the CareerConnect Blog · Contact AFB and the AFB CareerConnect team
Explore your world
like never before
From exploring new neighborhoods and restaurants in the city, to traveling the globe – Aira empowers the blind to experience their world and surroundings like never before.
Aira’s platform works on wearable devices such as Google Glass and Vuzix that can be paired with your smartphones.
The tiny camera mounted on your wearable device provides instant feedback so Aira Agents can safely guide you with any activity.
Our network of trained Aira Agents, who could even be one of your family or friends, are able to assist you whenever and wherever.
Team Sea To Sea and the Race Across America!
check out Team Sea To See on the web
And follow the Team Sea To See on Facebook.
(from the web)
Team Sea to See is committed to proving that blind people can succeed in any field. We believe that demonstrating this capacity to succeed is critical to empowering others in the blind community and changing society’s perceptions of the blind. We are illustrating this capability by building a team of blind people to tackle RAAM and an accompanying media and outreach campaign.
We believe that lack of exposure to and understanding of blindness plays a major role in keeping employment rates so low for the blind community. Employers aren’t intrinsically hostile to the blind; they just don’t understand how blind people can, through ingenuity and adaptive technology, enjoy the same success as their sighted colleagues. We’re taking on the high-profile challenge of the Race Across America to show what blind success looks like, on and off the bike.
We are a team of successful businesspeople and athletes who share blindness as a common characteristic. We’re entering the world’s most grueling endurance cycling race, the 2018 Race Across America (RAAM), to show the immense capabilities of blind people and to raise awareness of the abysmal employment rates of the blind. We will be highlighting our achievements through a major media campaign and a full-length documentary. And we need your help.
Your tax-deductible gift can help us shed light on the unacceptable employment rates for blind people across the nation and bring the inspiring stories of our team members into plain view. By supporting Team Sea to See, you will interact with an international audience through conventional and social media, showing your support of diversity and inclusion and helping to change the way the world sees the blind
Check out the Team Sea To See Podcast on Blind Abilities!
See complete transcription below.
Kirk Adams on AFB, Aira, Team Sea To See and Transitioning To College
Welcome to Blind Abilities, I’m Jeff Thompson.
And I’m Pete Lane.
This morning we are speaking with Kirk Adams.
Kirk is the president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, AFB.
Good morning Kirk, how are you this morning?
Good morning, I am great, thanks.
Thanks for joining us, I appreciate that.
Kirk, the American Foundation for the Blind is and organization that has been in existence for almost 100 years, can you tell our listeners a little bit about the organization, and what it offers to the blindness community?
So the American Foundation for the Blind was created by the blindness field in 1921.
At that time there were two professional associations, the American Association of Workers for the Blind, and the American Association of Teachers of the Blind.
And those two professional associations met every other year in a national convention.
And then in 1919 and 1920 they both voted to put forward leadership and resources to create a new entity, a central non-profit agency, the American Foundation for the Blind.
Which was really to use research and data to identify the most pressing challenges faced by blind people in our country and collectively address those challenges by convening the field, by conducting research, by proposing solutions to those challenges.
And we’re a private non-profit 501C3, we are not a membership organization like the council or the federation.
Because of that structure, are really able to at any point in time in our history, take a step back and look at the demographics of blindness, the trends in society, and technology, the workplace, education and determine where we think we should be focusing our resources, our time, our energy, our efforts, our financial resources in order to improve the lives of people who are blind.
We have a very broad charter, which has really improved the lives of blind Americans.
Throughout our history that’s taken different forms, in the 1930s AFB pioneered the talking book concept, worked with the recording industry, developed a 33 1/3 rpm phonograph record, received money from congress as part of the new deal to manufacture phonograph machines for distribution to blind people.
The “Talking Book” name was coined by AFB.
Established a public policy center in the 1940s in the Washington D.C. area and have had continuous public policy presence since then.
Was involved in the 1950s and 1960s in engineering things like some of the first talking aids and appliances, talking watches, talking scales, talking thermometers.
Involved in the ADA, the Individuals of Disabilities Education Act.
About 15 years ago, really started focusing on the web and making content available for blind and low vision people and their families.
So we have a family web site, Family Connect, for families with blind kids, and Career Connect, for blind job seekers and young people in school to work transition, and then, Vision Aware, which is for people new to vision loss, just primarily seniors and their families.
By going to AFB.org, you’re listeners can access all of those websites and all of that content.
Yes Kirk, I was just there at AFB.org and something that really caught my attention was the new transitioning to college program activity guide.
That seems so relevant as college just is getting under way right now.
Yeah, so we really try to think about the major activity areas in life and what the challenges are in particular for people who are blind and low vision in those areas.
That education is clearly an area where blind and low vision people are not experiencing the same educational graduation rates and achievement rates as the general population.
Obviously employment, you know workforce participation rate of blind people is half that of the general population.
The levels of independence of seniors and elders experiencing vision loss is much much lower than their sighted neighbors, so we try to identify those leverage points where we really think there needs to be a focus.
And college success would clearly be one of those, again educational attainment, achievement of a degree or certificate is a very strong clear indicator of employment success.
So you help blind and low vision people across the country, young people and their families to have a more successful educational experience, we see that as a very important point of emphasis.
And that is available for TVI’s, teachers of the blind, and for students.
Students, families, school districts.
And another great thing is like “Career Connect” and “Access World”.
It’s in the palm of their hands, right in their phones, they can download the app from the app store?
Yes, so there is a number of apps that are really quite important.
One is called “Vision Connect” and that connects to our directory of services.
So we maintain a sortable searchable database of over 2000 organizations and resources for people that are blind and low vision across the country.
So people can search by their location, by their zip, by their area of interest.
If the person is interested in recreation and outdoor activity, they can search in their area for organizations who might offer those types of programs.
[Inaudible], O and M sources, independent living, training resources.
So that is a great resource.
Yes it is.
The whole website.
When I first went blind I was looking around for stuff and this was 20 years ago, and I found AFB, and I think they had people who were doing role models type of things like some of that…
Yeah, there is a mentor database through Career Connect.
And before I became a board member of AFB, and then most recently the CEO, I was a, and still am a Career Connect Mentor.
So there’s several thousand employed blind adults in every walk of life, every career you can imagine.
And it’s an opportunity for a person who’s either thinking about a career and just interested in exploring the options, or someone who is clearly focused on a career path, to reach out and talk to a blind person who is dong that type of work, involved in that kind of job, and hear first hand what the experience is like, what the challenges are like, what accommodations people have found useful, and that sort of really practical advice.
There is a lot of great articles, a lot of great volunteer writers on AFB.org, such as Alycia Wolf who does a lot of the transitioning and college articles.
I was wondering, if someone was interested in submitting articles, how do they go about that on AFB.org?
We have numerous bloggers, some of whom have their own blog but also replicate their content on the website.
We have peer support, primarily for those new to vision loss and that is through the Vision Aware website, so if a person would like to get involved, just go to the family of websites, and there is easy ways to express your interest and get in touch with staff, through emails through the websites.
Kirk, I am a user of the Access World app, which is free I believe on AFB.org as well as iOS app store.
Talk a little bit about the content and the writing staff.
Sure, Access World is one of our jewels I think at AFB, and its really blind and low vision people reviewing technology that’s, they have actually used and explored thoroughly.
And people with deep levels of expertise, but we’re looking at technologies that are specifically designed around access, but also mainstream technologies and how accessible are various mainstream technologies.
It runs the gamut from entertainment and recreation, reviewing games, to household appliances.
If you are blind and you want to buy a microwave, is there one out there that you are actually going to be able to use?
But the flat screen to screen readers, magnifiers, software, hardware, it really runs the gamut, and it is a very frequent publication, it’s monthly.
So there is usually 5 or 6 reviews and they are done by individuals who are blind or low vision, who really understand the need for accessibility and can speak to that from personal experience.
So I would encourage anyone who is interested in technology, and everybody should be.
And again you can sign up for a direct email subscription for free at AFB.org.
I noticed, and you’re right, the app is actually user friendly as well.
The current month’s issue is available on the main screen of the app and then there is archive tabs at the bottom where you can go and research in prior apps as far back as I think 3 or 4 years.
But I noticed an article, speaking of technology in the September issue of Access World where Janet Ingber, one of the regular contributors, very excellent author herself, reviewed the AIRA service.
And connecting that to an NFB connection in July of this year that Jeff and I both attended, we were at a workshop that Suman Kanuganti, the CEO of AIRA sponsored, and you were one of the folks on the stage, and you gave a really inspiring talk about AIRA.
Can you talk a little bit about the technology?
AIRA is one of the new technologies that has been emerging of which there are many which to give blind and low vision people access to information, visual information.
We at AFB are contacted very regularly by people involved in innovation, people who are working on accessibility and accommodations, and wanting us to get involved in various ways.
And one of the terms we’ve come up with is Popcorn Technology, because it seems like everyday something new is pooping up, and we’ve tried to do our best to, make our best educated guesses about which technologies are really going to be impactful and AIRA contacted us very early on in my tenure at AFB, and the founder Suman Kanuganti, I thought was being very thoughtful, deliberate about talking to folks in the blindness community, ourselves, the federation, the council, others to really understand what people’s lives were like, and what people really needed, and not just saying, here is a cool idea.
She’s put together an advisory group that’s very broad including voices from the blindness community.
I experienced the technology very early on when it was being tested and developed so you know, essentially a blind person is wearing a glasses frame and there’s a camera attached, and that is connected to an app on your phone in your pocket.
And when you activate the app, you are connected with a live human being, a trained agent, who has before them an array of technologies that they can bring to bear.
The uses I think are really endless from, what my first outdoor experience was visiting their offices in San Diego last October and just walking down the street to Starbucks to get a Iced Latte on Sunny afternoon, and I am a cane traveler so I was being given information like, you know there was a sandwich board sign in the middle of the sidewalk about 20 feet ahead of you.
You know they asked me “Do you like clock directions or do you like degrees?”
And I said “Degrees” to the agent.
It took a few minutes talking with me beforehand to get our communications down.
She said “You want to probably veer 8 degrees to the left, okay you are past the sign, you can straighten back up now, the door to the Starbucks is on your right about 15 feet ahead, the handle on the door is about the height of your elbow, you are there now, enter the store, now there is a display of holiday merchandise right in front of you, you want to probably jot 4 feet to your right, now you are in line, there is four people ahead of you, the line just moved up, you can step forward.”
And they will give you as much or as little detail as you want, so obviously a great addition to O and M.
I will say in no way should cam replace good solid O and M skills, but it can certainly enhance independence and mobility.
And then we were talking about employment earlier, and looking at job customization and job carving and, one of the barriers to employment has been those parts of a job that require sight.
And there was example recently where a job applicant was applying for a customer service job, part of that was processing and responding to faxed information or mailed information from customers.
Some of it was hand written.
The existing technologies did not allow the blind person to process that hand written material.
Which was a small part of the job, may be 5 or 10%.
But they [inaudible] the agent read them the hand written material and they were able to demonstrate they could do the job without accommodation, so I think we are very much at the beginning of understanding what this access to a trained live human agent can do, but we feel very positive about the technology and the way the company is structured, and the way the company has interfaced with our community.
So we have a memorandum of understanding, just of active mutual support between AFB and AIRA, where we will help them as appropriate and as we can to develop their technology and understand how it can be used.
I am excited about it.
I know that it’s a subscription model, I know there is an expense, I know there are concerns about the expense.
I know they’re aware of that, so that is part of the ongoing dialogue, is how to make this service available to as many people as possible.
Another good thing coming up is Team Sea to Sea, and that is the race across America where we have 4 blind stokers for the first time racing across America non stop.
Including Daniel Berlin, Jack Chen, Tina Ament and Micheal Somsan.
It’s quite a, extreme endurancing, and I know you know about this.
Could you tell us a little bit about why AFB is excited about team Sea to Sea and the race across America?
Yeah, so we at AFB, we are proud to be financial sponsors of this initiative, and it is really very much in line with our belief that there should be no limits for people who are blind and low vision.
That AFB is really here to create a world of no limits for people who are blind and low vision and that blind and low vision people have the same amount of skill and talent, and passion, and curiosity, as anyone.
And that when blind and low vision people experience limitations, it’s not because of any characteristics that we have, it’s because of the way society has been constructed, and the environment has been constructed, so it is barriers that have been imposed on us and Jack and his crew are really putting together a tangible demonstration, that there are no limits for people who are blind and low vision.
If the proper tools are in place, the right training, the right technologies.
They’re going to bike across the country and it’s a very much an all blind and low vision crew, the cyclist, the planners, the videographer, the social media person, the grant writer, all people who are blind and low vision, so we’re very excited about it as well.
It is a great partnership between AFB and the Sea to Sea team.
As they say, their motto is “Success in plain site.”
Yeah that’s good.
I like that.
Yeah we’re happy to be financially supportive of them and we think again, it helps amplify our message and the concept that we’re really trying to scale is that there are no limits for people who are blind, other than those that are being placed upon us.
So what we’re about is identifying where those limitations are being placed, what those barriers are, what those systems are that are creating barriers for us, and then working hard to address those and change those.
I would certainly agree and I think Jeff elated as did Jack in our podcast, a really interesting point that their efforts are not only promoting a great example within the blindness community, but throughout the mainstream population as well, in fact I tweeted out and posted our podcast link on Facebook, and within a short amount of time, an hour or two, there were a lot of retweets and shares within the mainstream populations.
So I think that’s a great example far and wide.
Yeah another thing I want to say about AFB is I’ve been out to the National Council and the State Agency Board out in Washington and the presence of AFB there, you guys really keep your finger on the pulse of things, and you disseminate that information you know through Access World, through other venues, your website.
What a great resource, we also try to aim people towards AFB, especially with your resources.
There’s state, like you said, put in your zip code, bang, there you go.
Yeah, we are here to look at the big picture and when we go to various conferences, I was just at the United States Business Leadership Network Conference in Orlando, which is fabulous, and it is major corporations who have made a commitment to including people with disabilities in their workforce and in their supply chain, doing business with disability owned businesses, and their product and service design and marketing.
So we go to that conference and it is fabulous and it is employer’s really learning from one another.
But the vocational rehabilitation leadership is not there, the schools for the blind are not there, and we go to the National Council for the State Agencies for the Blind, which is the Voc Rehab agencies.
Also, wonderful people working hard, you know learning from one another, but the employer community isn’t there.
And on down the line, the schools for the blind have their meeting, VisionServe Alliance which is the 501C3 non-profit’s have their meetings, but AFB I believe is the organization that can bring decision makers and influencers from all those sectors together, and we do that through our leadership conference, which is an annual event, and it was in the Washington D.C. area last March.
It will be in Oakland California, April 5th through 7th 2018 and will have six tracks.
An Aging and Vision Loss track, technology, employment, education, leadership.
It’s a leadership conference, so we’ll have a leadership track.
That’s where we can bring people from across sectors and the stake holder groups together and construct a dialogue about these key issues.
We can’t solve the employment problem unless all of the stake holders are talking together.
People who are blind, Voc Rehab, the non-profit community, the government entities who are involved in employment, Department of Labor, Department of Ed, and the people who have the jobs, who are the employers, they all need to be in the conversation together.
Well that is great.
Like the hub is to the spokes on a wheel.
They all come together.
Kirk, what advice would you have for a student who is transferring from high school to college to the workplace?
People are not getting early work experience, so not getting that first foot on the career ladder.
Some people get a job that isn’t probably their ideal choice, it’s an entry level job, may be working in retail, or fast food, or babysitting, or mowing lawn, that type of thing.
So it’s very important that young blind people get engaged in the community in some sort of productive activity.
The research also shows that volunteer work is just as strong a [inaudible].
So I really encourage people to look at volunteering if they are having struggles like most young blind people are in finding payed work, to think about their areas of interest, what really excites them, to look for organizations that are in that field.
There is an association and an organization for virtually everything.
Most of those volunteer organizations are looking for people to participate, looking for people to volunteer.
So I strongly encourage young blind and low vision folks to think about volunteering if they’re facing those barriers around getting engaged in payed work.
Also networking is shown through the research to be crucial, so to reach out I think, connecting with either of the two blindness consumer groups, identifying some blind adults who may be working in a field that is of interest to you.
Start creating that network.
Social media is also a great way to create a network.
But just take a few moments and think about activities or areas, subjects that are of interest to you, and start reaching out to folks who have some knowledge and experience in that realm.
Such great information Kirk.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the Blind Abilities listeners?
Look to the American Foundation for the Blind as a place where you can ask a question, where you can be connected to resources, where you can not only find information, but you can find support.
We have been here since 1921 and we have just completed a new strategic planning process, we are really looking at systems change and research and data and understanding these big problems, and how to solve these problems.
Anyone who is willing to help, we’d love to talk.
You can find me on Facebook.
Kirk Adams, K I R K A D A M S.
You can find me on LinkedIn, and I would love to connect with anyone who is interested in working with us to create great opportunities for people who are blind and low vision.
Thank you so much Kirk.
We have been speaking with Kirk Adams.
Kirk is the President and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, AFB.
Thank you so much Kirk for your engaging conversation, and thanks to your organization for it’s wonderful mission.
It’s been a pleasure, thank you so much!
You’re certainly welcome!
Thank you Kirk.
Have a great day!
Such a great opportunity to sit down and talk to Kirk Adams, the president and CEO of The American Foundation for the Blind, AFB.
You can find them on the web at afb.org.
Check out their apps, such a great resource for students, teachers of the blind, parents, available to you on the web.
A big shout out to Chee Chau for his wonderful music.
lcheechau on Twitter.
Once again, thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed, and until next time, bye bye.
When we share what we see through each other’s eyes, We can then begin to bridge the Gap between the limited expectations and the realities of Blind Abilities.
For more podcast with the blindness perspective, check us out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, on twitter at BlindAbilities, download our app from the app store, Blind Abilities, that’s two words, or send us an email at email@example.com, thanks for listening.