Your self-directed employment assistant

Those of you who have been following my blog over the last several months may recall a previous series entitled “Career Profiles” in which I would highlight a chosen occupation and some of the real individuals with disabilities who are making it their profession. Not only would I discuss the logistics of performing the job for each person, but their challenges and successes. This time around it is going to be a different as I am going to add anecdotes from my own life. I have chosen to restart our series with a man by the name of Mark Felling who is a brilliant entrepreneur. Part innovator, engineer, inventor, writer, speaker, but above all else, a true advocate on behalf of individuals everywhere who have a disability. 

Since I can first remember, I have navigated this Earth differently than most: in a motorized wheelchair. I had never been able to walk, and so leading my life sitting down had never bothered me. I never knew anything else, and so I had absolutely no idea about what I could be missing. However, I am only human and naturally have moments of frustration where I question the entire framework of society and my place in it, even down to the minutiae. Simple things that most take for granted like reaching for a door opener, or sitting in a movie theatre in such a fashion that I can socialize with my friends. Why is the button placed in such a location that it’s impossible to be reached from the angle that my wheelchair allows me to access it? Why are the accessible cutouts in a theatre flush with the wall so that when seated next to my able bodied companion they are so far behind me due to my wheelchair’s rear machinery that I can’t speak face-to-face? At times like these I so wished that there was an individual who knew what it was like to live my life creating these designs. Enter Mark Felling.  

Felling was in the prime of his life, the mid twenties, when the unimaginable happened. He had just taken off in a two seat aircraft that he had designed, when the engine failed. With no other choice than to force crash land into the trees situated in the Minnesota River Valley, Felling and his aircraft violently fell to the ground. He sustained a spinal cord injury when the aircraft landed on top of him, leaving him a C4-C5 level quadriplegic. Remarkably, Felling kept going. He didn’t let his life altering accident put a damper on his engineer-inventor way of looking at things. Only a month into his recovery at the ICU, Felling began imagining the Sky Chairiot and Road Chairiot, a wheelchair accessible private airplane and motorcycle, respectively. However, he didn’t stop there. As he was relearning how to live his old life in a new way, he developed a wheelchair-integrated voice control cell phone system. Eventually this became the Vocalize system. Then he went on to creating the PowerGrip, and the Comfort Carrier, and so on. All of these products were designed by Felling to better assist him with tasks of daily living following his accident. As word of his creations caught on, there were requests from customers that he made them available to the mobility impaired public. Soon after, Felling created Broadened Horizons, a company specializing in assistive technology that will not only benefit those who need it for everyday use, but in hopes that the products can be accessed by those of any ability level. Felling’s wish that his technologies will be beneficial to everyone is what really resonates with me.

In today’s current societal climate, acceptance and equality for all is at the forefront. Just like it is important that our brothers and sisters of every race feel safe and accepted for who they are, as well as our friends who want to exist in an open and gender neutral environment, the same could be said for our community members who happen to be disabled. It’s imperative that the world at large does everything it can to create an environment where having a disability doesn’t mean you’re excluded from everyone else, in activity or in thought. Individuals like Felling who believe that this doesn’t have to be the case are so important to our future and the evolution of our society. Also, it doesn’t hurt his cause that he has experienced living from both sides: as an able bodied man filled with ambition and tenacity, and now as a man who is roaming the earth in a different way, but with possibly even more ambition and tenacity than before. His ability to view all angles because of firsthand insight is absolutely priceless.

If you’d like to read further on Mark Felling, his company Broadened Horizons, his patented technologies, and all of his amazing experiences in between, check this out. The world I live in is constantly filled with questions, so it‘s wonderful to know that someone like Mark is out there creating the answers.

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