Journeys Through Rough Country: An Ethnographic Study of Blind Adults Successfully Employed in American Corporations
Kirk Adams, Ph.D. is a 2019 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.
Dr. Adams at his Dissertation Defense.
L-R: Dr. Philomena Essed, Committee Chair, Dr. Heather Wishik, Committee Member, Dr. Aqeel Tirmizi, Committee Member.
- Philomena Essed, Ph.D., Committee Chair
- Aqeel Tirmizi, Ph.D., Committee Member
- Heather Wishik, J.D., Committee Member
Blind, Visually Impaired, BVI, Blind Employment, Unemployment, Corporations, Disabilities, PWD, Leveraging Differences, Diversity, Ethnography, Success, Compensation, Agency, Identity Formation, Accommodations, Accessibility, Inclusivity
Blind and visually impaired people in the United States face a dire employment situation within professional careers and corporate employment. The purpose of this research study was to gain insights into the phenomenon of employment of blind people through analyzing the lived experience of successfully employed blind adults through ethnographic interviews. Previous research has shown that seven out of ten blind adults are not in the workforce, that a large percentage of those who are employed consider themselves underemployed, and that these numbers have not improved over time. Missing from previous research were insights into the conditions leading to successful and meaningful employment for blind adults. My top research questions were: what experiences and relationships were most significant in the lives of successfully employed blind adults in U.S. corporations, and what the most significant factors were, from employers’ perspectives, leading to these successes. Based on semi-structured interviews of 11 blind adults who self-identified as successfully and meaningfully employed in corporate America, I found successfully employed blind adults have largely forged their own paths, with family support, valuable knowledge, skills, and abilities, and a strong sense of agency playing crucial roles. Corporate inclusion of blind employees is in its infancy. The implications for social change revolve around changing societal perceptions of the capabilities of blind people, transforming corporate cultures to ones of integration rather than differentiation, and building family, school, community, and service provider mechanisms to instill a strong sense of agency in young blind people. My recommendations to others are to focus on a leveraging difference framework of diversity and inclusion, in which every individual is valued for their unique characteristics, and make sure that blind people are positioned to be part of this societal transformation. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive, http://aura.antioch.edu/, and OhioLINK ETD Center, https://etd.ohiolink.edu/.
Adams, K. (2019). Journeys Through Rough Country: An Ethnographic Study of Blind Adults Successfully Employed in American Corporations. https://aura.antioch.edu/etds/467
Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education Commons, Business Administration, Management, and Operations Commons, Disability and Equity in Education Commons, Educational Leadership Commons, Leadership Studies Commons, Public Health Commons
Kirk Adams, Ph.D.
ORCID Scholar ID #: #0000-0002-9691-8523
As the president and chief executive officer of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Kirk Adams 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 20 million Americans with vision loss.
A preeminent leader in the field of blindness, Adams frequently serves as a keynote speaker at conferences across the country, informing audiences of AFB priority issue areas that include education, vocational rehabilitation and workforce participation, vision loss and aging, and technology. He has consulted with top leadership at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other high profile tech-oriented companies to discuss topics ranging from product and digital accessibility to civil and disability rights.
Active in his community, Adams was a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Disability Employment and the Seattle Public Library’s Strategic Plan Advisory Committee. He served on the boards of the Aerospace Futures Alliance and the Association of Washington Business. He was also the treasurer and member of the Board of the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind and a board member of National Industries for the Blind.
Adams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. He earned his master’s degree in not-for-profit leadership at Seattle University in Washington.