Mark A. Riccobono
Executive Director, Jernigan Institute
Born in Milwaukee,Wisconsin, Mark Riccobono was diagnosed with glaucoma and aniridia at age five. Yet, his progressive vision loss did not stop him from doing the things he wanted to do. Mark attended public schools and graduated with honors from Solomon Juneau Business High School in Milwaukee. In high school he was active in Debate; DECA (a national association of marketing students) at the local, state, and national levels; and the school track team.
Mark went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in business administration. Mark was extremely active in many clubs and organizations on the university campus. In 1996, he founded the Wisconsin Association of Blind Students, a division of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, and became its first president. Due to his leadership at the university, he was nominated and selected to be a member of the Iron Cross Society, a distinguished honor society of top student leaders who have attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He graduated from the university with a bachelor's degree in 1999. During his senior year, Mark was elected, at age 22, to the presidency of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin and was re-elected twice for successive two year terms until resigning in 2003 to move to Baltimore.
Upon leaving college, Mark joined the Sears, Roebuck, and Company's National Executive Trainee Program, considered to be one of the top programs for training managers in the retail field. While working for Sears, Mark spent considerable amounts of his free time advocating for the blind. As a result, he was appointed to the Wisconsin State Superintendent's Blind and Visual Impairment Education Council. With a growing interest in the field of education of blind children, Mark was hired, at age 24, to serve as the first director of theWisconsin Centerfor the Blind and Visually Impaired (WCBVI), a $6.1 million state agency responsible for statewide services to children who are blind. During his three and one-half year stint as director of the WCBVI, Mark took the organization from the brink of closing to a more distinguished position of leadership. After his success with the WCBVI, he resigned in October 2003 to take a position with the National Federation of the Blind, the leading organization in the field of blindness. In order to complement his broad experience in the field of education for blind children, Mark completed a Masters of Science in Educational Studies from theJohns Hopkins School of Professional Studies in Business and Education in May 2009.
He currently serves the NFB as executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, the only research and training institute developed and directed by the blind. Mark's duties are diverse and complex, and he generally describes them as simply "synthesizing the hopes and dreams of the blind into imaginative programs that advance opportunities and expand the possibilities." He is charged with understanding where the blind want to go and figuring out how to go there even if the resources do not exist today. As an example, Mark is currently leading an effort to build an interface for a car that would make it independently drivable by the blind--an initiative known as the NFB Blind Driver Challenge. In January 2011 at the Daytona International Speedway, Mark navigated a car equipped with nonvisual technology for 1.5 miles, demonstrating the first time a blind individual has driven a street vehicle in public without the assistance of a sighted person.
Mark is married to Melissa, a school counselor by training and leader in her own right--currently serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. Together, the Riccobonos, along with their children Austin, Oriana, and Elizabeth, look forward to long careers making meaningful changes in society and positively impacting future generations.