Intellectual Disability Does not Deter Michael Paul Mason
By John M. Williams
By John M. Williams
Nature has a way of changing us,” says 29 year-old Park Range Michael Paul Mason. Daily, Mason spends hours looking at trees, a variety of flowers and plants, streams and other forest life. He moves slowly a she looks at a variety of plants and flowers. The five-year veteran loves his job and the responsibilities that go with it.
Working at Death Valley National Park, his main responsibilities are protecting and supervising designated outdoor areas. He also patrols the grounds and makes sure that campers, hikers and other visitors are following the rules--including fire safety regulations—and very important that they do not disrupt the natural environment or fellow guests. He has participated in search and rescue missions.
Mason has greeted visitors and worked in the nature centers. He does not conduct tours because he feels inadequate. A shy man, “I can’t answer all those questions in ways that people feel secure.” Mason has an intellectual disability. His IQ is somewhere between 80 and 85. His immediate boss, Richard Long says, “Michael is a first rate park ranger. He does his job well. He does not ask for any favors.”
Mason is six feet tall and weighs a solid 180 pounds. Since he is outside most of the time he must stay physically fit. He does. He exercises daily, avoids deserts, candies, sodas, cakes and pies. He has wanted to be a park ranger since the seventh grade when he and his family visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Custer State Park in South Dakota. He says his parents encouraged him to become a park ranger. A native of New Mexico, Mason loves the outdoors. He is an avid camper. He spends his vacations visiting other national parks and fishing. He is not a hunter and does not own a gun or rifle.
“I want to be the best park ranger in this whole country, “says Mason.
Mason’s boss Willard Strong says, ”Mason is one of the most dedicated park rangers I have worked with in my 22 years of service.”
Strong and Long have developed programs to help Mason perform his responsibilities. One of the things they do is put assignments on a tape recorder. An example is, Meeting, Tuesday 3 pm. Mac's office. When they first met Mason they were sure he would not the grade. He fooled them. He passed with scores above 90. So he was hired. And both men have not had any second thoughts about their decision.
Life is not easy for Mason. When reading, he reads slowly and often he has to read magazines, books, newspapers and reports over and over and over before he gets the point. He does not watch TV. Nor does he go to many movies. He gets up many mornings by 5:00 am, showers, shaves, eats a light breakfast and exercises for 30 minutes. He is at work by 7:00 am. He gets paid for 40 hours of work. He works 50 hours or more. He does not complain.
“We need more Park Rangers,” says Strong.” He does not know when the federal government will give more money for salaries. Mason has provided leadership when it counts. Other Park Rangers have followed suit and put in overtime without being paid.
Mason speaks of his time at the University of New Mexico with joy. He graduated in May 2010 with a 2.75 GPA. He majored in biology. He spent six years at the university getting a BA in biology. He says he studied hard and worked with his teachers on developing guidelines for studying. The university provided him with an assistant. He was given extra time for tests and other outside assignments. He took the extra time. His classmates never once, to his knowledge, made fun of him. Still school was a struggle. He went sleepless many nights before a test. He had many sleepless nights before he made presentations. And he spent many sleepless nights before dates.
Mason is single. He wants to get married. He is not sure he will ever get married. His two older brothers are married. He has a 22-old sister who is studying in France. His parents are divorced. He lives with his father in Northern California...
From his ore-school years Mason was diagnosed as having cognitive impairments involving reading and writing. He acknowledges these weaknesses, but he does not allow them to conquer him. He says, “I have had trouble grasping the meaning of words, sentences, and paragraphs. I had difficulty in words and letter recognition, problems in understanding words and ideas. I was a slow reader and I needed help with strengthening my vocabulary skills.
Mason received the help he needed at home and in school. His mother was a special education teacher, and his father is a psychiatrist. They worked with him day and night until he began strengthening his comprehension and writing skills. His parents made sure his grade school and high school teachers worked with him. H had an IEP that they followed. The same situation occurred in college.
Mason has been promoted twice in six years. He is proud of his achievement. He knows that realistically he will never be in charge of protecting a national park. He accepts that reality. He is content to be where he is and wants to stay here a long time.
His peers like him. Jim Stafford started working at the same park Mason did six years ago. He sees himself as Mason’s adopted brother. He says, “There is no more dedicated Park Ranger than Mac here. He inspires me to put out 100% every day."