Author Mark Carlson Nominated for “No Limits” Award -- It’s the story of the “Blonde Leading the Blind”

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A new charitable outreach program created to help disabled men, women and children achieve their goals, recently announced its latest 2012 "No Limits" Award Nomination -- author Mark Carlson.

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.

“One time, Musket and I were denied access to our local McDonald’s, despite the fact there was a sign that read, ‘No Dogs, Assistance Dogs Welcome,’” said Carlson, who now writes and speaks full-time. “The story made the Channel 51 TV news in San Diego, as well as the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. I wasn’t interested in bringing legal action against the franchise; all I wanted was a chance to help train their staff and managers about how to respectfully deal with disabled people, and in particular, the visually impaired. They afforded me that opportunity, and my talk was very well received.”

Depending on the audience, Carlson often begins his appearances with this opening line: “My name is Mark Carlson. I have three disabilities. I’m legally blind, hearing impaired, and I’m a guy,” for which he always gets a big laugh, setting the stage for the serious discussion about educating people about the disabled and the considerable hurdles they must deal with each day.

“I may have disabilities, but because of the support and encouragement of friends and family, Musket and Assistive Technology, I have no handicaps,” Carlson said with pride. “I love showing the world what someone with a disability can really do, if there are no limits in their way.”

According to Patrick Lennon, founder of the “No Limits” Mentoring Mission and “No Limits” Award, 70 percent of all visually impaired people between 18 and 69 are unemployed. “This isn’t acceptable. If a person has career aspirations-- whether they are paralyzed, wheelchair-bound, or visually impaired-- they should be allowed to pursue those goals. Our mission is to do everything possible to connect disabled people with meaningful job opportunities, regardless of their physical issues,” said Lennon.

Carlson is anxious to do whatever he can to assist the “No Limits” Mentoring Mission.

“Whenever there’s an invitation to speak or help mentor somebody going through the same challenges I did, I’m more than happy to do so,” said Carlson, who is currently finishing a book called Flying on Film: A Century of Aviation in the Movies 1912-2012. “Being nominated for the ‘No Limits’ Award is more than an honor; it’s an opportunity to continue my efforts helping the disabled any chance I get.”

By the way, Musket, 12, will be retiring in September to “start a life of leisure as our beloved family pet. I’m sure I’ll be waiting on him mouth and paw for a change,” said Carlson, who resides in San Diego, California, with his wife, Jane. Carlson will be going back to Guide Dogs for the Blind for a new dog so he can continue his career as an aviation writer, historian and public speaker. “I do what I am best at now,” he said. “I love to meet veterans and aviators and tell their stories in national magazines. And along the way, I try to set the best example of a person with a disability.”

According to Lennon, the “No Limits” Mission is looking for companies and mentoring volunteers, such as Carlson, interested in making a huge impact on someone’s life. Lennon added, “The overwhelming majority of disabled people don’t want to be on disability-- they want to work!”

If you would like to share your inspiring story, know of someone you'd like to nominate for the “No Limits” Award, or want to read the rest of Carlson’s heart-warming story, go to or visit them on Facebook.

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