inform & connect logo. Image of Carl Augusto.

Season 3 of Inform & Connect kicks off with a conversation with Carl Augusto, President Emeritus of AFB.

Carl served as president and CEO of AFB for 25 years—one quarter of the organization’s 100-year history.

Under Carl’s leadership, AFB forged numerous strategic partnerships and alliances within the vision loss community and beyond to address critical issues and expand opportunities for people with vision loss, including broadening the organization's scope to influence corporate America to make its products and services accessible. He was the fifth chief executive of the American Foundation for the Blind since its founding in 1921.

In light of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Melody and Carl discuss his employment journey, from early in his career through his tenure at AFB. They also discuss public perceptions of blindness, along with Carl’s favorite baseball and musical acts, which he also occasionally shares on Facebook.


Melody Goodspeed: Hey everybody, this is Melody Goodspeed with the American Foundation for the Blind Inform & Connect Podcast. We are so excited to be kicking off season three in 2021. Not only in 2021, but it's also our centennial year, and we are turning 100 on September the 23rd and it's super exciting.

And with that, I have a very fun guest with us today. I have with us, Mr. Carl Augusto, who is the immediate past president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, and he's been with us a quarter of our century. Hi Carl!

Carl Augusto: Hi Melody, It's great to be with you.

Melody Goodspeed: I am so excited you're here today, Carl, because you are so much fun to talk to, and I know a lot of people are going to be super excited to hear from you.

So Carl, we've had a lot of fun conversations lately about the centennial. So what can you... First of all, can you tell us, how are you celebrating 100 years of AFB? This is exciting.

Carl Augusto: Yeah. This is a great milestone for the organization. I've been a part of it for 25 years, but actually Melody, my connection with AFB goes many, many years beforehand because I've used AFB services and programs as a blind person, and also as a worker in the blind [inaudible].

I can't tell you how many times I've called AFB and gotten some resources from AFB to do a better job as an administrator, and do a better job also as a blind person. To be educated about all the resources that AFB has available for blind people.

So, I feel like I've been a part of AFB for probably 50 years. Maybe 55 years, since I've been retired for five years. So it's always great to reconnect with my friends at AFB.

Melody Goodspeed: Oh, we're so glad that you're with us, because you definitely make it fun for sure. And I was picking your brain about things. I really appreciate that.

So Carl, we had this big discussion. Tell us about, career and we're really boosting about workforce development this year and celebrating that in our centennial. Can you tell me... a lot of us, with the 70% unemployment rate among the blind population and how that is really effective, and really just concerning, a lot of people want to figure out, our career path, can you walk us through your career path? What was it like, thinking, "I want to be a CEO."

Carl Augusto: Well, I was pursuing a degree in psychology and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was a client of the Connecticut rehabilitation agency. I received very little counseling. My rehab counselor was done, frankly.

And what I decided to do was to take advantage of an opportunity. And I learned about stipends available for graduate degrees in rehabilitation counseling. So I said, "Ooh good." I'm going to jump for that because I'm going to be a better counselor than the guys trying to provide counseling for me.

And of course he did not provide very much counseling. If I didn't go to graduate school, I have no idea what I would be doing with a degree in psychology. But the thing of it is, Melody, confession here. When I graduated with a master's degree, the last group of people I wanted to work with was blind people.

Why? Well, because I was still emotional, having difficulty adjusting emotionally to my decreasing vision. I had normal vision when I was eight, started losing vision at that time. So I still had substantial vision in my early twenties, but I didn't like it. And I was not adjusting well emotionally to the loss of vision.

So I said, "Gee, the last thing I want to do is work with blind people." But the problem is I applied for jobs, working with other disabled people, with other disabilities. I couldn't get a job. I felt discrimination. And I don't know if that's true or not, but it seemed like I was well-qualified.

I have a degree in rehabilitation counseling, but I couldn't find a job. So then I finally, as a last resort applied for a job, working with blind people and in my 45-year career, I never left and enjoyed it thoroughly working with blind people along the way. So you asked about my career trajectory. I thought I was going to be a counselor. Yeah. Step in, Melody if you want to ask questions because I can keep on going, you know this.

Melody Goodspeed: No, I love this. Are you kidding me? I'm going to have 100 questions already, but no, keep going.

Carl Augusto: So anyway, I thought I could be a counselor for the rest of my career, but I didn't do well as a counselor. And one of the most important jobs I had as a counselor and that is placing people in jobs. And I didn't know very much about different vocations. I think I was an okay counselor, but that was a very important job working for a state agency. I was working for the New York Commission for the Blind and Vision Impaired, and I really didn't do such a good job in placing clients.

I was recruited to work at a national organization that accredited agencies and schools for the blind and that involved in administration. I've worked there for 10 years and I evaluated, helped on a team to evaluate agencies and schools, their management and their programs. And I learned a lot about leadership and learned a lot about top level management. And I was also promoted to be the number two in that agency, but I still didn't think, "I want to be a CEO," I'll be a number two person for the rest of my career and that's fine.

But I was recruited again by the Cincinnati Association for the Blind, and I applied for their job as executive director and I got it. And that was the easiest transition, Melody, I ever had in a job.

Melody Goodspeed: Nice!

Carl Augusto: My predecessor had kept the place in great condition. So it was an easy transition. So I spent six years there. And then my dream job, the CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, I knew I applied for the job when my predecessor Bill Gallagher was retiring and I had to pinch myself, Melody, because for the first time I thought, "Yeah, maybe I could become a CEO," after my six year experience, as a CEO in Cincinnati, I felt much more confident. And then I came to AFB and my dream job.

So that's it, goodbye, time for-

Melody Goodspeed: No! We're not done! Hold on!

No, that's awesome. Thank you for walking us through that. I want to go back, though. And I'm sitting here, very excited, I did not know this all, how you got here, so this is fun.

But can we go back to the, "I'm not adjusting to blindness very well," because this is also something I really struggled with myself and I hear it too, from people that have... This is one of the things that are, is dealing with, aging community. And to me that means not just... It means all of us, we're always aging, right?

So really getting into, going through that transition. And, and as a person who is blind and is going through that emotional state right now, what kind of advice would you give them to move into a place of... I don't want to say acceptance, but in a place of, "This is where you are." I mean, obviously you've had a very successful life and a very happy one because you're so fun. But I think a lot of us have struggled with that.

Carl Augusto: Yeah. My struggle was the late teens and early twenties, and peers are very important during that time. And I couldn't play basketball anymore with my peers, I couldn't go bowling with them. I didn't want to go skiing. I felt different. And to be different was to be rejected.

It does take time. And the advice I'd give for people who are undergoing a loss of vision, is take one step at a time. It's funny. I learned how to use a cane. Last thing I wanted to do when somebody says, "You've got to learn how to use a cane. I said, "No, no, I'm not going to do that. That's the ultimate symbol of blindness and I'm not going to be blind."

Of course I was, years later, but it took time for me to develop that emotional adjustment to using my cane. I almost got hit by a car and that's what did it. And then I learned how to learn braille before I needed it. So that also took time. So I think time is a healer.

And to be honest with yourself, becoming visually impaired at a slow pace is good in a functional way, but it may not be good in an emotional way, give yourself time, relate to other people, find some good role models and continue to communicate to yourself and to your friends and relatives and have them help you get through this. And that's what happened to me.

It was my friends, it was my family. It was meeting the right person who I eventually married. So a lot of that was just taking my time and going through the process.

Melody Goodspeed: I think that's so important. I think we try to rush through it or don't recognize it's there and that's going to come back and bite you. So thank you so much for sharing that. It's definitely... Having that healing time is definitely needed. And to be honest with yourself.

Moving into that with listening to your journey of, "Okay, I'll be a counselor," and moving into your job. I remember this story we were talking, I guess, last week about, "Hey, so with your job as a CEO or anything that you [inaudible] you're traveling," it's fun. Right?

So can you talk, will you share with our lovely audience here, when you'd be on the plane and you'd sit beside somebody and of course you're getting your chatter in and saying, "Hi, and how are you? What do you do?" And have your normal... Can we talk about that when you "Oh, do you work in a nonprofit?"

Carl Augusto: Yes. Yeah. First of all, people, I dealt with extensive travel. So I was always sitting next to somebody who didn't know me. And sometimes, people that sit next to each other, do their own thing. I always valued when someone would feel comfortable enough to say, "How did you become blind?" And to have that discussion about blindness.

I think it's great that people are interested in learning about that because I feel I could educate them about the capabilities of blind people, the nature of blindness, the challenges that we face. It's always a good thing to interact with the public. So when the topic comes to, "What do you do for a living?"

And of course I said, "I work as a nonprofit administrator." When I did extensive traveling. It was as either with the accrediting agency or as the CEO of these two organizations.

So, I'd say "I'm an administrator."

And they say, "Okay, well, what kind of organization?"

And I say, "A nonprofit organization, an agency for blind."

And a couple of times they said, "Oh, that makes sense." Most of the times they didn't say that, but it's funny, Melody, if I had been a CEO of any other organization, I would have felt a little more comfortable in saying, "Yes, I'm a CEO of a organization serving people with developmental disabilities."

Somehow it was always like, "Oh, of course," I was working with the blind, because he's blind. "Isn't that nice?" So it was that kind of knee-jerk reaction that I had, this is my problem, not theirs. Because most people didn't say what I just said, but it's something I had to get used to sort of say, "Hey, most important thing is that I am an administrator and I'm enjoying being an administrator and yes, it's an agency for the blind, but that's okay too."

Melody Goodspeed: Yes. I get that myself. Like we were talking, it's like, "Yes, I'm in development."

"Oh, wow, you're in development. Really? What do you do? What organization?"

"The American Foundation for the Blind."

"Oh, okay. Well that makes sense."

Okay, so because you know how... and then I even going deeper into that is, "Oh, well, that's because they have the technology for you and get that." And then I am really finding that to be a source to educate, to say, "Well, do you use ELA? Do you use Microsoft? Do you use this? Well so do I, I just do it differently."

So I really thank you for that. I sometimes feel like that leads into, for me is conversations of, people that are blind or vision-impaired being siloed and feeling like they can't do any other job, besides work in the blindness field of any sort.

What would you say to that?

Carl Augusto: Well, AFB for years had this program called CareerConnect and it's a listing of, blind people who were working in different jobs, using different types of technology, and I've always been blown away by the jobs that blind people have. I shouldn't be blown away, right? But I have been blown away to see what jobs blind people do.

I remember meeting a mother of a young blind guy who approached me. I remember vividly, it was in Tennessee. It was at school for the blind, there. He had graduated from school for the blind, and he wanted to be an electrical engineer. And she said, "How do I tell him that he can't be an electrical engineer?" I just looked at CareerConnect and found her a totally blind electrical engineer. And I said, "Don't say that to him, because there are blind electrical engineers. There are blind people doing just about anything."

And the way I say it, Melody, is with a little bit of ingenuity, and a little bit of... Maybe a little more than a little technology, blind people can do virtually everything. Virtually anything. Now we're not, we're not pilots of airplanes yet. That they happen someday. No, we can't drive Uber cars, but maybe that'll happen someday.

But it's amazing what blind people can do. And I always tell parents, "Don't dampen their dreams. Let them try to pursue a career that you think may not be right for him or her. They'll adjust eventually. They'll find a way, but don't keep on telling your blind child he or she can't do something. That's what teachers have done with blind kids for decades and centuries."

We have to encourage our parents and our teachers to encourage their students to pursue their dreams.

Melody Goodspeed: No, I agree with you on it and it sounds like [inaudible] and I even had this experience myself at losing my eyesight in my twenties. You do have vocational, what inspired you to be a counselor was that you didn't feel like you were getting the services that you wanted. So it even happens later in life as well.

Carl Augusto: Yeah. But later in life it's even worse. I mean, becoming visually impaired or any disabling condition later in life is a lot tougher for a senior to adjust than it is for a teenager to adjust. So yeah. It becomes even worse for older people experiencing any kind of disability for the first time.

Melody Goodspeed: Yes it is. But I, I really appreciate this conversation today because it's... I think it's very enlightening to know that, at the end of the day, I think I know for me, I thought I'll look at... even as you're walking through your career and 25 years at AFB, working and in contributing, but then also using the services, you can sometimes think, "Oh, well, there is no way I'm going to be able to get to that," or for me, you definitely see that. I think that's something we also have to struggle with as either you're doing nothing, or you're in this major leadership position and I don't know how I'm supposed to get there.

What would you say to someone thinking that, because that's another thing I see a lot in our community. It's either all or nothing, it seems.

Carl Augusto: Say that again, Melody, I didn't hear you, I'm sorry.

Melody Goodspeed: Sure, I just feel like when you're working, moving forward and you're trying to figure out what I want to do with my life as a person who's blind or vision impaired. And I think that a lot of the struggles that I see for individuals as well, "I'd really love to be a leader" or "I'd really love to be this, but I just don't see how I'm going to have that upward mobility, or I just don't see how anyone would hire me."

What would you tell them is the best advice to advocate for what it is they really want to do?

Carl Augusto: Yeah. I think relationships are very, very, very important. I mean, when you're working, you have a boss and that is the number one reason why people stay at a job or leave a job, because of their boss. But, if you have a, boss who is providing you with a good experience, then talk to the boss, talk about the opportunities are available within the organization.

Relate well to your peers, relate well to management, be a good listener. It's always a very important thing and try to learn from the experiences you have. I think there are many opportunities for people who are visually impaired, and guess what? Your primary interest may not be connected to your ultimate job. Sometimes people find jobs along the way.

As I said, I thought I was going to be a counselor for the rest of my life. And then I got into administration. I said, "Ooh, I like this stuff. I like this ministration stuff."

So yeah, continue to communicate with people within your organizations and look around for other opportunities outside of your organization, because there are opportunities out there. And as years go by, although we still have a lot of discrimination, I think more and more companies, more and more organizations are looking to hire people with disabilities. It's, it's very, very slow moving, but I think that's happening. So we might find your best opportunity working somewhere else.

Melody Goodspeed: I love it. Well, this has gone by super fast and I know we've got some questions here and I just want say thank you again so much for spending time with us today. I'm going to bring my colleague and partner in crime [inaudible], our manager of public relations. John Mackin. Hi John.

John Mackin: Hi, Melody, Hi Carl.

Carl Augusto: Hi John.

I've worked with John for what, say about five years?

John Mackin: It was actually three. I had the pleasure of working under Carl's leadership from 2011 to 2014.

Carl Augusto: Yeah. Okay. And then he came back after I left. That's a signal, there, John. I have to adjust for that.

John Mackin: Oh, pack your bags, we're going on a guilt trip. [crosstalk]

Carl Augusto: But unfortunately I never worked with Melody, but maybe we'll work together somehow some way in the future. Who knows?

Melody Goodspeed: Yeah for sure. "Pack your bags we'll go on a guilt trip." Nice, John. I love it.

John Mackin: Well, now we, now we get to do this, and you are right, Melody. We do have a couple of questions and this is a very fitting question because I'm sure many AFB staff past and present are thinking it, but I wanted to ask you about your retirement. You retired in, I believe 2016 and I can't believe it, but this is five years later. What have you been doing? What does Carl Augusto do today?

Carl Augusto: First of all, it's very funny. About three years before my retirement, I realized, first of all, I never wanted to retire. Just like I never wanted to work with blind people. I never wanted to be a CEO, right? I never wanted to retire, but three years before I retired, I realized that my 70th birthday was one month after my 25th anniversary.

And I said to myself, "Maybe the good Lord is trying to tell me something. Maybe this'll probably be a good time in 2016 in the spring when I turned 70 and I've been in it 25 years and then I'll retire." So that was what plan. And my last week at work, one of my fellow employees approached me and said, "Carl, are you looking forward to retirement?" With a big smile on her face.

And I looked at her and I said, "I'm not looking forward to it. I'm not dreading it. It's just going to happen. And we'll find out together how I'm able to go through this period in my life."

I think it was a couple of months after I retired. I suddenly realized "This retirement gig is a lot of fun. My goodness! This has been great." So I have loved retirement. I still do a lot of traveling.

People say "You did a lot of traveling on your job, you would think that you wouldn't want to do it when you're retired." Oh yes. I want to travel throughout the world. My wife said, "Carl there's..." She tells her friends, "There are 2000 Caribbean islands and Carl wants to go to every single one of them before he dies."

So yeah, I do want to travel a lot. I have traveled a lot.

I have a lot of activities. I started playing guitar again, which I did for many years. So when I was young, I started writing some of my memoirs. God knows what that might end up being, but I've done a lot of work doing that. And I love sports and music and listen to college basketball, baseball, football, listen to music.

So, Melody and John, it's a funny thing. I never have a dull moment or bored moment. If I do, I've got a reading list as long as the Mississippi River. So I just go down and read books. So yeah, I've also gotten involved in an organization on board, Visual Arts Alliance in New Jersey and really enjoying that experience. And now I'm the chair of the board. So I have no experience in being on the board and chair on the board. So that's been a lot of fun.

John Mackin: That's a perfect transition too. It's funny. One thing I recall was you had... Our current chief communications officer shared with me one time, Adrianna, you had a list of top bands from the '60s and it was about a page long. It was a very long list, but not to put you on the spot, but I'm going to ask you right now, who are your top three bands from the 1960s?

Carl Augusto: All right. So, I have about 20 years ago, I started developing a list. A list of my top 100 bands, my top 100 female artists, my top 100 male artists and my top 100 vocal groups. So it's been, anywhere from Frank Sinatra to Stevie Wonder. And Adam Levine of Maroon 5, and that kind of thing. So it spans decades.

So my top three bands, number one is Cream. Some people will not remember Cream, that was Eric Clapton's band. Well, and with Jack, Bruce and Ginger Baker, number two the Beatles, I have to put them up there, Because I love the Beatles. And number three is the Moody Blues, now all of those are back in the '60s. But I do have my top 100, Maroon 5 and I'm trying to think of other modern bands, but I do revise the list every year and I actually publish it on my Facebook page.

So yeah, I'm obsessed with music and although probably my biggest era would be in the late '60s and early '70s, I actually departed from all of my friends, John, because I liked the disco era. They said, "Carl, you like disco? What the hell happened to you? You must have really gotten a stroke back then."

But yeah, I still like pop music today. You know, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande's are two of my favorite female singers.

Melody Goodspeed: I love it.

I'm going to go check out your Facebook page and make up my own music list. I like it! My playlist.

John Mackin: When we recap this episode later, let's include Carl's Facebook so people can [crosstalk].

Melody Goodspeed: List of music! The Carl playlist. I love it.

I also am a big fan of Maroon 5 myself. [crosstalk]

Oh go ahead, John.

John Mackin: Oh, no I'm sorry.

Melody Goodspeed: I was going to see if you had any more questions. I have one question before we have to say our goodbyes for now.

John Mackin: Let's stick to hobbies for fun. You also love baseball, I believe you mentioned, right?

Carl Augusto: Yes.

John Mackin: You have a favorite team?

Carl Augusto: Yes, the Yankees, but the six years I lived in Cincinnati, I became a fan of the Cincinnati Reds. So I follow them. And the beauty of that, John is that now that there is an app and very small annual fee, you can listen to any broadcast of any major league game through this subscription.

So I love listening to baseball games, whether it be the Yankees or some other team, and it's fun to listen to different announcers and the play by play. Obviously as a blind person, I do not watch sports on TV if I can help it, because there's not very good description on TV because people can see what's going on, and these broadcasters don't have to tell you what's going on, but in radio, whee!

[crosstalk] To be informed about what's going on and I love to listen to a sports games on radio.

Melody Goodspeed: Nice.

John Mackin: Great. Melody. Any, closing questions or thoughts from you?

Melody Goodspeed: No, I think we're good. Carl, thank you so much for spending time with us! This has just been great and I've just always enjoyed and constantly am smiling when I get to talk to you. So thank you so much for this, it's been a blast.

Carl Augusto: My pleasure. It's great to be with all of you.

John Mackin: Yes. This was fantastic. And we'd love to have you back on sometime down the road if you're amenable.

Carl Augusto: Very good. Thanks.

Melody Goodspeed: Yes we'll have to get some catch up for sure. You guys, thank you so much for coming back with us on season three. If you want to learn about more about the American foundation for the blind and our programs, please visit us at www, dot, A as in apple, B as in boy. Oh, I'm sorry. Let me back that up. I can't even talk… A, F as in Frank, B as in boy, dot-org.

Thank you so much. You guys, both of you have a great rest of your day. Bye!