Interview with Kirk Adams, President, Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind
Interview with Kirk Adams
President & CEO, Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind
By Nicole Torcolini and Courtney Lee
Nicole: Hello, I am Nicole Torcolini. Today I am at Washington Council of the Blind Convention in the year 2006, and I will be interviewing Kirk Adams. Kirk, what is your job title?
Kirk: My employer is the Lighthouse for the Blind, which is located in Seattle, and I have a bit of a strange job title right now because I’m transitioning between two positions there. So my title is General Manager of Administration, President Elect, because the Board of Directors has just chosen me to be the next President and CEO of the organization.
Nicole: Can you explain exactly what you do?
Kirk: I am an administrator, an executive staff member, and I manage certain departments of the organization. It’s a fairly large organization, with about 300 employees, and a budget of about $35 million. And right now I’m in charge of the Human Resources, which is hiring, recruiting, training, developing people. I am responsible for our fundraising and public relations. I’m responsible for our employee and community services, as well as our finance function, which is the accounting and the money side of things, and our IT (Information Technology) department.
Nicole: Do you consider it a major accomplishment that your company is promoting you and moving you up?
Kirk: I really think of it as the organization is putting the best person for the job into the job. I’ve prepared myself very intentionally for this type of a job. When I graduated from college I had a degree in Economics. I took the first job I could get, which was as a stockbroker. And then when I was about thirty years old, I’d been doing that for about ten years and I didn’t like it very much, and I checked a book out of the Talking Book and Braille Library called “What Color is Your Parachute,” and it was a guide to helping you figure out what you want to do with your life. And it led me to the realization that I wanted to be in management, I wanted to be in the non-profit sector, I wanted to do something that benefited people who are blind, and I wanted to stay in Seattle. I went back to graduate school and got a Master’s degree in Not-for-Profit Leadership from Seattle University, and I have held executive staff positions in four non-profits, with increasing levels of responsibility as time went on. Just before going to work at the Lighthouse, I was the Fundraising Director for a large non-profit childcare agency in Seattle. So I’ve really prepared myself for this role, there aren’t very many blind people yet doing that, so hopefully it can serve as some inspiration to some people and some evidence to those who might have doubts about the capabilities of blind people.
Nicole: I am now going to turn the interview over to my partner Courtney.
Courtney: This is Courtney Lee of Camiack High, resuming the interview of Kirk Adams. I know there’s a lot of organizations working for the blind, so what does Lighthouse for the Blind really do?
Kirk: The Lighthouse really focuses on the issue of lack of employment opportunity. We are intentionally an organization that creates jobs that are accessible to people who are blind. We are a manufacturing company, our largest commercial contract is with Boeing Commercial Aircraft, we produce a number of products for the federal government. Our focus is to be the best, most efficient, effective manufacturing company we can be, to make sure that all of the jobs are accessible, and to make sure we’re doing outreach so that there are qualified blind applicants for all of the jobs.
Courtney: So where did you go to college, and what degree were you after, and what kind of experience was it for you?
Kirk: I went to Whitman College in Walla Walla. I didn’t know what I wanted to study when I went to college. I think it’s a rare person who knows at age 18 exactly what they want to be, what they want to do. So I went to a liberal arts school where I took all kinds of things: english, and physics, and math, and economics, and history. At the end of my sophomore year when they said, “You have to declare a major,” econ was the subject I was enjoying the most at the time, so I became an Economics major.
Courtney: Okay so you have a stable job, you have a family, and you have to deal with the challenge of blindness. Does this ever get overwhelming? I mean, is there any little shortcuts, or anything you have to say, about dealing with all three at once?
Kirk: I think it’s really important to have really, really good blindness skills. I lost my vision when I was five years old, my retinas both detached. I lost my sight in about a 6-week period. I went to the Oregon State School for the Blind for first, second and third grade, and got really good grounding in blindness skills. Then I started public school in fourth grade, and I was really the only blind student through all of the rest of my schooling, through elementary, middle school, high school, college, graduate school. I can’t say enough about how important excellent braille skills have been to me. And being able to travel independently, whatever your choice of mobility tools are, whether it’s a cane or a dog or both, I think it’s really important to have excellent mobility skills. And I think if you have good command now of the access technology, you can cut down on the circumstances that might overwhelm you. I would just really say the focus on the basics of blindness skills is really important.
Courtney: Can you give us kind of an overview of the access technology you’re using now?
Kirk: Again, braille is always my first choice, and speech would be a distant second choice. I still have the slate and stylus in my briefcase in case everything breaks. I’ve got a Perkins Brailler on my desk, I have a PacMate with braille display that I use in meetings. Got a PowerBraille 80 cell braille display on my desk with my PC. I have a scanner so that I can scan print documents and convert them into braille. I have an embosser, which I use constantly to make hardcopy braille. I have a laptop with JAWS that I use when I travel. I use some recorded materials, things like management books that we’re all reading together as an executive staff.
Courtney: Well, thank you so much for your time, Kirk. It’s been good interviewing you, and I think our listeners would agree you’ve given us a lot of insight. Thank you for your time.
Interview taken at the Washington State Council of the Blind Convention, November 2006.
Interview provided by Jack Straw Productions, Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences, Washington State Council of the Blind and the Child and Family Program of the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind.
Copyright © Jack Straw Productions 2006.