A Conversation with … Bill Barkeley, Deaf-blind Advocate, Adventurer and Storyteller

Bill Barkeley calls himself the “deaf-blind adventurer,” and will be the keynote speaker at the NASF Sur/Fin conference on June 8.
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Bill Barkeley calls himself the “deaf-blind adventurer,” and will be the keynote speaker at the NASF Sur/Fin conference on June 8. Born with little hearing and fading vision, Barkeley graduated from the University of Southern California and was director of sales and marketing for a Fortune 500 form before retiring and becoming a public speaker and ‘storyteller,’ sharing his life journey with progressive hearing and vision loss.


PF: When did you decide you wanted to speak full-time about being deaf-blind adventurer?

BB: After I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro as the first deaf-blind person using assistive technologies, I was on Good Morning America and word spread. It was not only of my physical accomplishment, but about how I felt that any person in this world with disabilities—or not—can get past any barrier in their work or life. Invitations to speak came in from around the world, and I quit my corporate career to my encore career of helping people get to a better place in their lives through adventures, advocacy and storytelling/public speaking.


Bill Barkeley speaking in Berlin, Germany.


PF: What was your secret to business success while having hearing and vision loss?

BB: I was fortunate to learn early on that the biggest reason people leave companies is rarely pay. People leave jobs because they believe that they can’t make an impact, not being heard or knowing that anything that they do won’t make a difference in an organization. As a person on a lifelong journey with hearing and vision, I know all to well how painful this can be when people grossly underestimate you or jump to conclusions based on stereotypes or perception. Knowing yourself and helping others as your main focus, and not personal gain, builds trust, commitment and group unity through the ups and downs of work and life.


PF: What should employers know about hiring someone who is deaf, blind or both?

BB: The American Disability Act is not enough. About 85 percent of deaf people and 90 percent of blind people are unemployed in the U.S. People with disabilities do not believe that they should be given anything. They desire economic inclusion and the ability to contribute to families, communities, countries and the world. Studies have consistently shown that if you do the development work to put a program in place at your place of employment, that they have higher organizational loyalty, less turnover and higher job satisfaction for the simple reason that they feel so lucky to finally have a career.



An Amazon River night hike.


PF: What is on your bucket list?

BB: Machu Picchu, Everest Base Camp, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Cunard Cruise around the world and the El Camino Trail in Spain.


PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given, either personally or professionally, and who gave it to you?

BB: ‘Be the change you wish to be in this world’ from Gandhi. You have a choice you can keep banging your head against the wall, rage at others and depress yourself with the sad state of affairs around you. Or, you can say to yourself “I have to use the same energy to step-by-step change the world and make the difference.” Sure, I do not want to be deaf-blind, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have a rich and fulfilling life and make the path for the others to come better.


PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?

BB: I would create a foundation, and the money would be for a scholarship fund for more teenagers to go on adventures—like the group of deaf kids I am leading in Machu Picchu this summer—and embrace their hearing loss, advocate for themselves, become leaders and ambassadors in our world about what truly is possible. 


Get to know Bill

Family: Wife Mary Beth and sons John, Brian and Will

Favorite hobby: Working out, stand-up paddle boarding, skiing, biking

Favorite movie: Pulp Fiction

Favorite book: Men to Match My Mountains

What’s playing on your CD/radio: Billy Joel, Adele, Frank Sinatra, Jack Johnson, Journey, Bruce Springsteen, Eagles, Mat Kearney