Perkins School for the Blind has had presidents in the past, but Dave Power is the first to also hold the title of chief executive officer. Power, a former high-tech executive, first brought his market-driven approach to the 186-year-old Watertown school when, as a board member, he pushed Perkins to get into online education. Power, 61, took the helm at Perkins last April, and recently spoke with reporter Katie Johnston about technology, jobs, and helping blind people become a bigger part of their communities.
1. Power has a very clear memory of the first time he became aware of Perkins. His son David, the oldest of his five children, was born blind and hearing impaired, and Powers leapt into action before he and his wife brought the child home from the hospital.
“We were at Emerson Hospital in Concord, and I used the phone book and a pay phone, and I found the Perkins School,” he said. “I can picture right where I was standing.”
2. Power, who has held high-level positions at software and information security companies, is putting his Stanford MBA to work at Perkins. He’s even applying the principles of his 2014 business book, “The Curve Ahead,” to help the school identify new growth opportunities.
“The core of the innovation process is not coming up with inspiration in the lab. It’s about going out to the people you serve and finding that next problem to be solved. It’s true for private and nonprofit. And so I am bringing an external, almost a marketer’s perspective to Perkins. And everybody here is getting religion on this kind of market-driven innovation.”
3. Perkins has five operating groups: the school, a free library for blind adults, an international development program supporting schools in 67 countries, online teacher training, and accessible technology — the latter of which has the greatest potential for innovation. The school is helping test a startup company’s sonar navigation system, which bounces sound waves off objects and triggers vibrations in a device strapped to a person’s wrist. The strength of the vibration shows how close a person is to an object.
“The keys for accessibility for people who are blind are information access, and navigation. Navigation is, well, it’s white canes, it’s guide dogs, but what else?”
4. One of Power’s top priorities is helping blind students with their transition to adulthood. He wants to put a greater emphasis on building daily living, social, and vocational skills in the four years before students age out of Perkins, at 22. He is also focused on the school’s newly formed partnership with about 30 Greater Boston businesses to raise awareness, identify employment opportunities, and make online job listings and other career-related possibilities accessible for blind workers. The blind population has a 75 percent unemployment rate.
“We have a long way to go just on the human side of things before we get to worrying about how technology can make things better.”
5. Power also wants to help create better transitions into community living for people like his son, who is not able to hold a job. Power’s son lives with an aide in an apartment in Newton, not far from his family, and volunteers at an abused animal shelter, goes horseback riding, and takes the T around town.
“The risk for someone like David is that they end up sitting on a couch all day.”Katie Johnston can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.