Mark Adreon sits at his desk, unaware that he’s talking to a colleague who has left the room. Outside, he is confronted by pushy fellow commuters overeager to help and nosey about his blindness. And at a restaurant, the server treats him like he isn’t there at all. Why is Mark surrounded by such inconsiderate people? These are all moments from the video he wrote, produced, and starred in, Blind Sided, which gently teaches common-sense courtesy for improving interactions with blind and low-vision colleagues, friends and fellow citizens.
He made the video for the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind, where he has worked since 2005. Though the information is serious, the tone is lighthearted. “I have found that when people are laughing, they become comfortable with discussions on blindness or disability,” Adreon explains. He says that approaching the serious topics around disability with humor can reduce defensiveness and create a sense of safety, and then, “real conversations can occur.” In his role as program and partnership development specialist at DSB, he helps improve access for the blind across the state. This includes very tangible forms of access, such his work on committees reducing physical barriers and improving blind people’s experience on public transportation, as well as increasing access to employment resources. The committee he created helps level the playing field for job-seekers who are blind or low-vision, including those who are starting their own businesses. He is working to make sure that business owners with a disability can fairly compete for the state and federal benefits available to minority-owned businesses.
This aligns perfectly with the work of the WSBLN, of which Adreon is the Vice President. “WSBLN is focused on business education on the abilities, capabilities and strengths persons with disabilities can bring to the workplace,” he says. The driving dynamic is the shared-value proposition of benefiting people with disabilities, just as their presence and prosperity benefits the companies they work with. Among his awards and honors, in early 2018, Adreon was awarded the Governor’s Trophy for “continuing to influence and lead efforts to maximize the independence of individuals with disabilities.”
As a member of the Puget Sound Diversity Employment Network, he makes sure that all conversations about organizational diversity give time to disability inclusion. The “real conversations” he champions have ranged as far as Kazakhstan, where he participated in a series of public events in 2013 to exchange information and empower people with disabilities across cultures. While much of his work focuses on improving job opportunities and working life, he also takes on projects that enrich life outside the workplace. As the chair of a citizen group, he brought to life a celebration of the 25 th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a festival with music and art featuring performers with disabilities.
Mark’s involvement is personal. He became blind gradually, over the course of about a year, some 25 years ago. He realized then that people were going to perceive him differently as a blind person, based on their own stereotypes and influenced by their own fears and lack of knowledge. “It became a mission for me to educate on the human side of blindness and to provide an alternative perception to blindness,” he says.
His videos have been used to teach over 15,000 people simple strategies to help make the world a little more navigable. While his videos are specific to the blind, the principles come back to basics: communication and empathy, tools that can improve any interaction. His greater goal is to start “conversations for understanding people for who they are,” he says, “and not the characteristics they present with.”