Although we are only in it’s earliest years, as we embark in this twenty-first century, humanity stands on the verge of the most transforming period in its history. This is a time where the limits of our imagination are the only impediment to our potential advancement as a society. In the not so distant past, having a “disability” meant that a person was enveloped in limitations. Today we live in era in which the very nature of what it means to be disabled will be challenged. As humankind breaks the shackles of physics and achieves inconceivable heights of learning, exploration, and advancement.
One person on the forefront of this re-imagining of our world is Mark E. Felling. For almost a decade, this businessman, inventor, advocate, writer, and speaker, has been one of the most respected and provocative advocates of the role of assistive technology in the day to day lives of disabled individuals, and as a model for future exploration into human development. Through unique and innovative solutions, Mark wants to make assistive technology so ubiquitous that society at large will begin to regard disability as a normal aspect of life, not as a deviance. Rejecting the notion that persons with disabilities are in some inherent way “defective,” Mark has designed advancements and innovations that take the focus away from the disability, and focus instead on the abilities of each individual through an appropriate “user interface”.
In 2003, Mark began developing ideas and solutions that would become Broadened Horizons, Inc. The company and Mark’s concepts have redefined assistive technology by focusing on bridging the gap between technology people use everyday, and alternative user interfaces providing users of any ability equal opportunity to access and benefit from these technologies. With the ever-accelerating rate of technological change, everyone everywhere has some level of interaction with technology on a daily basis; whether it is using a cell phone or computer, playing a video game, watching TV, or even entering into the world of augmented reality. Mankind is already moving to the next step in this inexorable evolutionary process: the symbiotic relationship between human and machine (see Google Glass).
Prior to his new endeavor, Mark was already a man with technological ingenuity and a genuinely inspiring vision of our ultimate destiny. He attended North Dakota State University (NDSU) and El Technologico de Monterey, Mexico (ITESM), graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Business and International Studies, and began Master’s coursework in Space Studies under a NASA sponsored program. Participating in the Internet revolution, Mark put himself through college first teaching himself Computer engineering outside of normal coursework then designing, launching, and manufacturing his own brand, FMS Computers. In his early 20’s, Mark entered the corporate world to expand his experiences, working with a who’s-who of fortune 500 companies worldwide on implementation and quality verification of high-tech telecommunications and embedded system user interfaces. A test automation platform Mark developed in 2002 after a summer of studying Russian at Moscow State University is still in use to verify new user interface releases in the digital cable settop box you likely use daily.
(VIDEO) Mark is the attraction at Jama Mazid Mosque in Delhi, India – the world’s largest.
In his personal life, Mark Felling has always been a consummate explorer and citizen of the world, fluent and/or competent in several languages. It was his adventurous spirit that ultimately led to a twist of fate that would change the direction of his life and career forever. On, July 2, 2003 Mark was piloting his own modern 2 seat experimental aircraft. Due to engine failure shortly after takeoff, he was forced to crash “land” in the trees of the Minnesota River Valley. 40 feet above the ground, the super-strong all composite wing impacted a tree that did not budge, stopping the aircraft in midair which flipped over upside down. Mark landed on his head with the airplane on top of him causing a spinal cord injury which left Mark a C4-C5 level quadriplegic.
We can imagine ourselves at the height of our career, only in our mid twenties with a life full of plans ahead, this accident could easily become an excuse to give up, but for Mark it was simply a new challenge to overcome. The one thing Mark would not and could not sacrifice is his determination and passion. It was only weeks after his accident that Mark began creating the ideas for new and innovative solutions that would break the boundaries of disability including the Sky Chariot and Road Chariot, a wheelchair-friendly aircraft and motorcycle Mark intends to build and pilot independently. With the will and the drive to create a new life, and a new vision of the future, Mark launched Broadened Horizons, a company dedicated to helping the most physically limited individuals rediscover themselves, redefine their lifestyle, and expand their perceived ‘horizons’. Committed to empowering each person with the tools to do whatever they do best, Mark has seen his customers changing their communities, society, the world.
In an era in which our evolution is becoming increasingly more focused on intellectual and technological advancement— Mark is spearheading the dawning of a new societal understanding of disability that will enable us to transcend out of physical limitations and amplify our creativity. This will be achieved through alternative user interfaces to technology that enable people with physical limitations to live, work, and play with the same technology all people use everyday. Broadened Horizons has become a leader in the assistive technology design, development, consulting, and implementation. Moving away from the antiquated and expensive model of the past that required complex counter systems, a network of specially trained installers, and often times an overabundance of unnecessary equipment, Mark has lead Broadened Horizons to create highly customizable modular solutions that are easy to setup and easy to use. In addition to revolutions his company has made in the areas of environmental control, mobile telecommunications, air travel, and recreation, Mark has pioneered changes to the world of video gaming through adaptive video game controllers that act as an abstraction layer between game developers and players physical abilities.
Experiencing the possibilities through Mark’s controllers, many others through awareness and advocacy have helped this snowball grow in size and momentum. Other game controller manufacturers have introduced new adaptive video game controllers, variations on Mark’s designs that include the broadest range of adapted video game controllers available worldwide covering all game consoles and games with 100% compatibility (Xbox360, PS3, Wii, PC, and Mac). Seldom idle, Mark, with a characteristic twinkle in his eye, simply suggests that 2012 will be the greatest for differently enabled gamers yet.
Your organization can experience Mark’s inspiring message of possibility: ANY team working together CAN and WILL change the world. By simply imagining possibilities beyond your perceived limitations, you have already broadened your horizons. We all bind ourselves in shackles of self-imposed limitations. Whether a team of two or an consortium of competitors across an industry, by respecting and valuing each contributors strengths and talents, we throw off those shackles and spread our wings.
In addition to leading a successful business spearheading the rapidly changing assistive technology industry, Mark Felling works tirelessly on behalf of the disability community through advocacy, outreach, and awareness; speaking at events and centers worldwide. He has been a guest on various television programs, radio shows, and podcasts. Mark is one of the youngest members interviewed for the Assistive Technology Oral History Project, an archive of pioneers in the field, for which he gave a 3 part interview on a wide range of topics. Because of his work, innovations, and commitment to excellence, Mark was twice appointed and has served as Chairman of the Minnesota Governor’s Advisory Council on Technology for People with Disabilities.
In only a short time, and through unimaginable circumstances Mark Felling has gone from ambitious engineering student, to reshaping the world for people with disabilities, and giving many families including families those by military service new reasons to smile. His story is one that can barely be described on paper and is best told by Mark himself. Those who have had the opportunity to hear him speak, see his products, and share his vision of a world without limitations are forever changed.
(biography by Jay Escobar)