Release Date: 
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)

NFB Executive Mark Riccobono
Honored by Wisconsin Alumni Association

Named a 2011 Forward under 40 Honoree

Baltimore, Maryland (March 9, 2011): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest organization of blind people in the United States, today announced that Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, has been named a 2011 Forward under 40 honoree by the Wisconsin Alumni Association.  The Forward under 40 award program honors University of Wisconsin graduates under age forty who are making a positive impact on the world.  Riccobono is a 1999 graduate of the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “We are very pleased and proud to see Mark Riccobono receive this tremendous honor from his alma mater.  Under his exemplary leadership of the NFB Jernigan Institute, countless innovative programs that tackle critical issues of importance to blind people have been developed, including science academies and advocacy programs for blind youth and initiatives that seek to improve the Braille literacy rate among blind people both young and old.  He truly exemplifies the NFB motto: 'changing what it means to be blind.'”

Mark Riccobono said: “As the executive director of the first research and training institute on blindness led by the blind, I have been fortunate to play a role in many exciting and life-changing developments for blind people in America—including getting behind the wheel of a car equipped with a nonvisual interface that allows the blind to drive independently.  While we have made much progress, there is still more to be done.  Only 10 percent of blind children are learning Braille in this country, and this directly contributes to a 70 percent unemployment rate among blind people in the United States.  I humbly thank the Wisconsin Alumni Association for this great honor and hope that it will create interest in the work of the Federation among my fellow Wisconsin Alumni as well as those from other great universities.”

Riccobono was the first director of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a state agency that serves Wisconsin’s blind children.  Since coming to the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind in 2003, he has spearheaded many initiatives, including educational programs designed to engage blind youth in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  He currently serves as executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. 

On January 29, 2011, Riccobono became the first blind person to drive a street vehicle in public without the assistance of a sighted person.  He was behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual technology and successfully navigated 1.5 miles of the road course section of the famed track at the Daytona International Speedway.  This successful demonstration was part of the NFB’s Blind Driver Challenge™ initiative, which challenges universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to establish NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ (BDC) teams—in collaboration with the NFB—to build interface technologies that will empower blind people to drive a car independently.

Riccobono and his wife Melissa, who has worked as a school counselor and serves as president of the Maryland affiliate of the NFB, live in Baltimore with their two small children, Austin and Oriana.

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