Editor's Note: Kirk Adams gave the opening remarks for the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind (NAEPB) National Symposium held in Arlington, VA on June 27, 2017.


Eric Stueckrath: Now, I'd like to introduce one of our valued partners and someone who I got to know very well when he was a former CEO at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle. He was also an NIB board member, and he became president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind last year. He remains a very strong partner and proponent of the work we're doing. Please help me welcome, Mr. Kirk Adams. [Applause]

Kirk Adams: For any other blind people coming up here today, there's plants on the stage.

Okay, so, good morning! Man, it's just good to be here, you can't know, so, again, I'm Kirk Adams. I am President and CEO for The American Foundation for the Blind. For those of you who can't see me, I'm un-telescoping my cane, if that's a word. And, I got a BrailleSense here on the podium, with a few notes, so...I am the sixth president of AFB. I'm happy to say I'm the sixth blind president of AFB. [Applause begins]

Thank you. [Applause fades]

For those of you that don't know much about AFB, we have a website I invite you to visit, A-F-B dot org. We are a private non-profit. We were created in 1921 by the professional associations in the blindness field to be a central non-profit agency to identify, understand, and address the most important issues affecting the lives of people who are blind. And, like all of you in this room, we're working hard to create a world of no limits for people who are blind and visually impaired. Everyone associated with the AbilityOne program and National Industries for the Blind and associated agencies know this, that like all human beings, blind people have unlimited potential to achieve, to create, to live fulfilling lives. Prior to AFB, as Eric mentioned, I was at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle. I visited many sister agencies over the 16 years I was there. Most recently, in April this year, I visited CABVI (Central Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired) in Cincinnati for the first time, so...

You know, I know first-hand the amazing work you all do and the Employees of the Year in the room are just living proof that there are no limits to blind people's talent, and ambition, and creativity, and courage and compassion. But, the reality remains, and it's remained before and since 1921 when AFB was founded that limits are being placed on us blind people in the form of barriers to inclusion in nearly every aspect of life. We all know blind people face barriers to equal employment opportunities, to educational and healthcare services, to transportation systems, to electronic information and resources. At AFB, we are working hard to understand why and how these limits are being imposed on blind people and what we can do about it.

I know every blind person in this room has had a limit placed upon them at some point. Last night, during the reception I saw my friend Lisa from Beacon Lighthouse. And, I know how each of them and all of you have had to battle and fight to overcome barriers.

And of course I've experienced my share. Just one little example. When I was a senior in high school, first day, went carrying 40 pounds of braille textbooks. I went to my math analysis class. Then I went to my physics class. And then, I went to chemistry class. And the chemistry teacher said, "You are not going to be able to take chemistry, it's not something a blind person can do. I was sent out of the classroom and assigned to a study hall, case closed. Now of course I've met successful blind chemists.


I know that was a limit that was placed upon me that didn't need to be. I didn't know any blind people. I didn't know any blind role models. I didn't have any self-advocacy skills. But you are in a room full of role models and expert self-advocates. So, Employees of the Year, this is a golden opportunity to learn from one another, get know one another, and stay in touch.

So, back to chemistry class. A limit was placed on me and I didn't know how to deal with it. I didn't know how to move toward a life of no limits in that situation. But, now for the good news. We have unprecedented opportunities to create a world of no limits, the world we all know is possible. Advances in technology, the power of social media to help us share knowledge and to organize, research and data analysis tools that will let us really dig deep and look at old problems in new ways and find new solutions. In a world that's changing rapidly, that's a given, we have to be really strong and decisive to make sure these changes contribute to a world of no limits for people who are blind rather than creating even more barriers.

Now, of course we know individual blind people can and do overcome all kinds of barriers every day. Sometimes in very remarkable ways. At AFB, we want to make overcoming these barriers easier for all blind people.

We had an opportunity to go to the New York Institute for Special Education recently and talk to some kids. And we got some video. And there's this little girl about six years old and the question, what do you want to be when you grow up? And she so matter-of-factly said, "I can be a helicopter pilot if I want to." And so, when she's in high school and she walks into her intro to aeronautical engineering class with her white cane in her hand, I don't want some misguided—we'll say "so-and-so"—telling her she can't do it.

We want to create a world of no limits for kids like her. And, in that spirit, we just went through a year-long strategic planning process. We talked to lots of people, both inside and outside of the blindness field. We asked, what can we do as an organization to deliver the greatest long-term value for people who are blind or visually impaired? We just received a really clear answer that we were told AFB should focus on identifying the most challenging barriers faced by blind people, to use research and data analysis tools to understand these barriers, and then create knowledge about these challenging issues and share the knowledge in order to make positive changes in the lives of blind people. So, back to our roots, our 1921 roots, really. To apply what we learn in creating solutions and working with partners, like all of you. To create solutions in the areas of employment, education, and access to technology.

A key objective of ours is to promote understanding of the issues faced by blind people and we're going to focus these efforts on key decision-makers and influencers in corporate America, in government, and healthcare education, technology in the non-profit sector. So, we're going to be reaching out and building relationships across all of these sectors and sharing our knowledge so that better decisions can be made concerning the inclusion of people who are blind in all aspects of our lives.

We literally just completed our strategic plan. Our board of trustees adopted the new plan and our key objectives just 10 days ago. My senior leadership team and I are here in the home of our new headquarters, Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia working on drafting our implementation plan. We'll be sharing the details with all of our partners, including you, so that we can find ways to work together. But again, the essence is really to understand the most challenging issues facing blind people today. To use research and data to identify solutions, and to drive towards those solutions working in collaboration and partnership with people like you.

So, we want to level the playing field. We want to create that world of No Limits for people who are blind and visually impaired. Stay tuned for the details. American Foundation for the Blind on Facebook. Kirk Adams on Facebook—I am a slight social media addict, so, send me a friend request.

Thanks for everything you do and enjoy the rest of the symposium and don't take "No" for an answer tomorrow on Capitol Hill. Thanks.