The “No Limits” Mentoring Mission, a charitable outreach program dedicated to helping disabled people achieve career goals, recently announced its latest “No Limits” Award Nomination — sought-after author and speaker, Mark Carlson.
For Carlson, 52, becoming legally blind didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of many years as Retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an inherited, degenerative eye disease that afflicted both his father and brother, finally left him jobless and facing an uncertain future in the fall of 1998.
As a successful graphic artist, he enjoyed a solid reputation for his extremely precise work and creativity; however, the continued loss of vision was becoming increasingly difficult to hide.
“My boss could overlook me walking into furniture and walls every now and then, but I couldn’t cover up the fact that I was simply making too many mistakes…and he reluctantly let me go,” said Carlson.
“I guess you could say I was up ‘denial river’ without a paddle,” he said half-jokingly. “Since it was clear I could no longer work in my chosen career, I was literally forced to seek help from others for the first time in my life.”
A friend told Carlson about the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) and its educational and vocational assistance programs for disabled Americans. “With the help of a very caring counselor named Karen Gamble, I was able to attend the Davidson Program for Independence (DPI) in L.A. where I learned Braille, the latest assistive computer technologies, independent living techniques and even how to use a cane properly in a variety of environments,” said Carlson.
Even though Carlson was now up and running with the latest innovations for the visually impaired, he was still out of a job. He was determined that would change.
“As luck would have it, a woman was demonstrating the latest closed-circuit television (CCTV) system for me one day, and I was so enthusiastic about how I could use the system to help not only myself but others that she offered me a job selling the devices,” said Carlson.
After his very first presentation at a small agency for the disabled called The Access Center of San Diego, Carlson was offered a full-time job as an assistive technology specialist. “I guess they enjoyed my talk so much they offered me a job on the spot,” he said. “My sales career was quickly over, but a bright, new chapter in my life had begun.”
For the next seven years, Carlson’s job was to help disabled people become more independent through various technologies. He participated in countless outreach programs where his newly found public speaking skills were put to good use. “It was one of the most satisfying jobs because I knew I was making a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
During the first few weeks on the job, Carlson was also granted time off to get a guide dog, which was fully paid for through Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. “Otherwise, I could never have afforded the $50,000 price tag that would have come with such a highly trained dog,” Carlson added.
The dog’s name was Musket, a handsome yellow Labrador that became his “new eyes,” and the two have been inseparable ever since. In fact, he’s even published a book about Musket, much of it from the dog’s perspective called, Confessions of a Guide Dog – The Blonde Leading the Blind. The heart-warming and well-received book details how Musket changed and probably saved Carlson’s life on more than one occasion. It also educates the reader about the challenges of being disabled in today’s world, how assistance dogs make such incredible differences and what programs and resources are available to help the visually impaired.
The pair has made countless presentations at schools and other organizations, where Musket is always the star attraction. “He usually just sleeps through my presentations since he’s heard the same lines so many times,” Carlson laughed. “But it has allowed me to help educate kids and adults that disabled people aren’t looking for pity, just respect and an opportunity to reach their goals just like anybody else.”
And speaking of respect, he says you don’t always get a lot of that as a blind person.