Man with Quadriplegia Excels in Computer Field

Mark Richards photo

Pensacola, FL – At 16, Mark Richards was like most teenage boys. He was on the high school swim team and loved hanging out with friends. Then one day, he and his buddy took a boat ride that changed Mark’s life forever. Mark drove the boat into shallow water, running aground, and causing him to be ejected into the river. He found himself face down in the water, unable to move.

Mark was taken to the hospital where doctors told him he had a spinal cord injury. “I had to learn to move my arms again,” Mark says. “I don’t have finger movement at all. I type with two of my fingers.” Mark spent months in physical therapy learning to feed himself and how to use a wheelchair. He decided during those first few months of rehab that he wouldn’t let his quadriplegia limit what he could accomplish.

After graduating from high school, Mark heard about Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). He knew he wanted to go to college and thought VR might be able to make his goal possible. “They helped me with getting to school, with my tuition, and provided a lot of guidance,” Mark says. “I got my associates degree, and then my bachelor’s.” Mark graduated with a degree in computer engineering, becoming the first of six children in his family to receive a college diploma.

After graduation, he landed a full-time job, but had trouble with transportation. “My VR counselor encouraged me to buy a vehicle that was fitted for me,” Mark says. “They helped with getting someone to evaluate what I could and couldn’t do, and from there, they wrote the prescription.” VR helped make Mark’s van wheelchair accessible, which included adding a ramp to allow him to get into the driver’s seat.

With his newfound independence, Mark landed a job in computer engineering, but it didn’t last long. In 2010, with the economy tanking, he sat down with his VR counselor, John Giefer, to develop a plan to ensure career success. “We came up with the idea of having him work from home,” John says. “He’s well-educated and at the top of his field. His mobility is hampered by his quadriplegia so we helped him set up an office environment within his house.”

Mark has been working out of his home for a year now with Sans Institute, a company that focuses on cybersecurity and infrastructure security for Fortune 500 companies.

Mark says his family is one reason he’s been motivated to set high goals and achieve them. “My wife made me do things I thought I couldn’t do.” Mark plans to continue working with the cybersecurity firm, but also dreams of writing software to help improve the lives of others.

He’s grateful to VR for helping him realize his dreams. “VR really changed my life, in that I was able to go to college and get a degree and compete on the same level as anyone else,” Mark says. “It made my disability become a non-issue. Sure there are challenges, but VR has made it so those little bumps in the road and those challenges you have are manageable.”

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. Our employer-focused website, FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 80 offices across Florida, and last year helped 6,071 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org.