Blending abilities into new job opportunities

Mark Berry’s house looks like any other Nevada ranch. There are a few trees, but mostly sagebrush, and not another house in sight. The surrounding Nevada hills roll away.

But the smell sets it apart. Everything smells like coffee.

Berry’s house is connected to his business: the roasting shed that is Blind Dog Coffee Company.

Mark Berry, owner and roaster of Blind Dog Coffee Company, shows off a newly cooked batch of coffee beans.

Berry is solidly built from years of horse shoeing, timber logging and mule packing supplies into remote locations. He has frizzy gray hair radiating from his head and matching walrus-like sideburns.

But he also has the type of demeanor that easily sets strangers at ease. He’s friendly, curious and definitely, absolutely not shy. He shakes hands, jokes and immediately explains, “If I start heading like I’m going to bump into you, just speak up. You won’t hurt my feelings.”

Berry is blind.

When Berry was two, he had retina blastoma, which caused tumors to form behind his right eye. He was part of the 10 percent of children who survived the radiation available in 1958, but lost the vision in his right eye.

Fifty years later, the side effects of that radiation razed his remaining eyesight, leaving Berry completely blind within a year.

“One of the things that scared me to death was how am I going to make a living?” he said. “You know, as sighted people, we always hear about a blind person who does something, but not many.”

He racked his brain and remembered a scene from his mule-packing days. On Berry’s route through King’s Canyon National Park, a local ranger would clip plastic baggies onto a clothesline to hold his outgoing mail and grocery list. One day, there was also a note reading “Coffee’s on,” so Berry joined the ranger for a cup of coffee.

It was the best he had ever had. From that moment on, Berry hunted down good coffee and kept the idea of owning a roasting company in the back of his head.

As his eyesight started to fade, he contacted roasters all over the country (including some who had previously helped set up partially sighted people with roasters), went to conferences and bought specialty equipment such as talking scales, Braille-covered switches and timers that counted down time out loud. He bought beans to experiment with blends, burning some, spitting some out and, finally, finding a palatable blend to start brewing.

Berry outfitted the switches that operate his coffee roaster with Braille.

Currently, Berry’s coffee beans are sold in area shops, but he hopes to expand. He wants to set up a Blind Dog coffee shop, staffed by blind and partially-sighted baristas.

Read more about Mary Berry’s coffee-roasting process at:
Roasting roadblocks to employment for people with trouble seeing
Learn more about Blind Dog Coffee at:
Blind Dog Coffee
Learn more about Assistive Technology at:
NCED’s Assistive Technology page