Winter 2010 Newsletter of the Arizona Council of the Blind


Happy New Year! By Barbara McDonald

        Although you are reading or listening to this in January, it is still mid December for me.  Actually it is 10 days before Christmas, and I am a bit stressed out because I have not bought a gift for my husband or my mother.  However by the time you get this, that will all have been solved in some way.

        I am not usually at a loss for words, but today I seem to be.  I am just going to tell you about a few things AzCB has done, and some future things we are planning.

        In October, Maureen Comiskey and I went to the Carl Hayden Veterans' Hospital in Phoenix and distributed information about the history of the white cane for white cane safety awareness.  Tom Hicks had set aside October 16th to have exhibitors come and disseminate information to blinded veterans.  They hope to make this an annual event during White Cane Week.

        In November, several of us attended the 13th Annual Vision Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Expo (VRATE), which was held in Mesa this year.  We handed out brochures and collected dues from current and new members.  About 350 people came to hear speakers and see the latest technology equipment exhibitors were displaying.  At both of these events, Dan Martinez was there with his obstacle course, which simulates what blindness can be like.

        The Governor's Council on Blindness and Visual Impairment (GCBVI) conducted their meeting during the expo.  Ted Chittenden, an AzCB member, was approved to serve on the governor's council's board representing one of the AzCB positions.  Dan Martinez currently holds one of the positions and we still have one position available.

        In December, our budget committee worked hard to create AzCB's  budget for 2010.  The chair of this committee is Robert Williams, and needless to say, it is not an easy job.  I appreciate the committee's diligence. 

        You probably have already received your renewal letter for membership.  Tom Belsan, who is in charge of our website, is the chair for the membership committee.  Thanks to him, you can complete the application and pay through PayPal on our website. You may also mail your application to the council's office.  Again, this is another example of a committee working hard to increase membership and to stay in touch with our current members.  Our website address is

        I already mentioned the budget for 2010 so don't be surprised if you receive a donation request letter from the fund raising committee.  Maureen Comiskey chairs this committee. Her committee is putting together several ideas for raising funds.  All the things AzCB does, can only happen through fund raising efforts and your generous donations.

        On April 16th and 17th, our state convention will be held in Phoenix.  Ron Brooks, who is the chair of the state convention committee, will provide further information.  This is a huge undertaking, and requires a lot of planning.  The state convention provides an opportunity where you can gain information about what is happening in our state regarding blindness issues.  During the Friday luncheon, we will once again be awarding scholarships to Arizona residents who are attending schools. 

        The instructions and scholarship application form can be found on the AzCB website. If you know of anyone who is seeking help with their education expenses, please let them know about the availability of our yearly scholarships.

        Last but not least, on July 10th through the 17th, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) will be holding their 49th annual national convention right here in downtown Phoenix.  The members of the local host committee are meeting monthly to help the national convention committee to put together a fantastic convention.  You will also be getting more information on this at a later date.  Many volunteers are needed and door prizes or auction items will be requested.  Please circle your calendar for both these big events.

        I started this article by wishing all of you a Happy New Year.  My hope is that you will remain healthy and happy.  Thank you to all the volunteers who work so hard for this organization. We work together to benefit the blind and visually impaired residents of Arizona. This year, we will get a chance to benefit even more people.

        Happy New Year! Hopefully, I will see you and hear from you soon.


ASDB 100th Anniversary-Reunion 2012 By Dan Martinez

        This is Dan Martinez and I am a former student of the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind (ASDB). On behalf of the ASDB Alumni Association I would like to locate all visually impaired/blind alumnus who graduated/attended/or staffed at ASDB. When I have contact information for those individuals, I will share information with them about the upcoming "ASDB 100th Anniversary-Reunion 2012”.

        The Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind was established in 1912 when Arizona became the 48th state in the union. The Arizona State Constitution established ASDB as the program for educating deaf and blind children and youth in Arizona, and services were initially provided only in Tucson. ASDB moved to the West Speedway campus in 1922.

        I would like to have your physical and email address and years of attendance or class year.  I hope to hear from you soon. or 602-771-9134


News from Guide Dog Users of Arizona By Larry Wanger

        Guide Dog Users of Arizona, (GDUA) is an affiliate of the AzCB. Our organization focuses on providing advocacy and support to guide dog teams in the state of Arizona and seeks to provide a forum for education and learning for the business community and general public about the rights afforded to guide dog handlers by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Arizona state law and others. GDUA holds its annual meeting at the AzCB state convention and is also affiliated with Guide Dog Users Incorporated, a national organization sharing our vision and purpose.

        Over the past year, members of GDUA have been working to revitalize and organize. In May the membership elected a new board of directors. This group has provided excellent leadership and will continue to work to improve our affiliate in the future. We have also been working to increase awareness and membership in GDUA.

        Often we think of a new year as a fresh start and a chance at a new beginning of sorts. If you are a guide dog handler or interested in guide dog issues I want to personally invite you to join us. Becoming a member of GDUA is easy. For more information you can visit the AzCB web site at or send an email to You can also contact the AzCB office for more details.


Southern Arizona Chapter IT’S OUT OF THE “SAC!” By Sharon Booker

        December has been an exciting month for SAC.  On December 7th, Frank and Janet Kells were featured in a story by the Arizona Daily Star, telling how Frank was responsible in large part for the creation of Sun Sounds, the radio station reading to blind and visually impaired persons seven days a week, twenty four hours a day.

        Although Frank has been slowed by a stroke and other health problems, with the help of his wife, Janet, he is still writing his memoirs.

        We have produced and distributed hundreds of brochures promoting both White Cane Safety Day as well as white cane awareness.  With such a good start on creating, publishing and distributing this information, we plan to begin early in the New Year to create and promote a true White Cane Safety Day event next October in Tucson.

        We are now in the process of revising our brochure promoting SAC, and what it, AzCB and ACB stand for.  We hope this new outreach instrument will not only gain new members for our chapter but aid those people who are blind or visually impaired in finding answers that they may be seeking as well as a place to make friends and share ideas.

        On December 12th, we held our Christmas Party. Four guests were present and one of them, Rachel Krieg, joined our chapter.  We also held an election of officers.  The slate for 2010 is Mitzi Tharin, President; Janet Kells, Vice President; Sharon Booker, Secretary; Dorothy Levinson, Treasurer and Thom Booker, member at large. Finally a monetary donation was presented to the representative of SAAVI Southern Arizona Association present to thank the organization for providing us with meeting space.



        Many years ago during my undergraduate college years at Langston University in Oklahoma, I was privileged to represent the university at the 18th International Student Ecumenical Conference held on the campus of Ohio University at Athens.  About 1,500 students attended the Conference and its outstanding list of speakers included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  in preparing for the conference, I learned that the word ecumenical is an adjective meaning pertaining to the general unity of Christians above sectarian beliefs.  I also learned that the related word ecumenism is a noun meaning a movement seeking to achieve worldwide unity through greater cooperation and improved understanding.

        In recent years a spirit of ecumenism has prevailed in ACB in the selection of local religious leaders to bring the invocation at daily general assembly sessions and to serve as needed at other services during ACB Convention week. My chief assignment as a member of our local Arizona affiliate host committee for ACB’s 49th annual conference and convention from July 10 through 17, 2010, at the downtown Phoenix Sheraton is the recruitment of persons to fill the invocation and other religious service slots during convention week.  Approximately ten persons are needed.  My goal is to have the names of these persons in place for submission to National Conference Coordinator by the end of February.

        If you have the name of a Minister or other religious figure you would like to recommend, please communicate the name to me immediately either by phone at 602-938-7776, or e-mail at  Please leave all contacts with prospective conference participants to me as an over supply of nominees may result in some prospective participants not being contacted.  Keep in mind that funds are not available as an appearance honorarium or travel reimbursement.


ACB Members In Action By Maureen A. Comiskey

I’m sitting in front of my computer at 3:30 in the morning writing this letter.  Its quiet, coffee brewing and a busy day ahead of me.  Like many of you, I do most of my thinking, planning and reflecting either before or as I fall asleep each day.  I thought about writing this letter for a long time but finally got the courage.  Moreover, I wanted to share my story with all of you and hope it serves as an inspiration not only to blind and visually impaired people, but to our sighted piers as well.

        After spending 47 years developing both my personal and professional life in Illinois, I finally got brave enough to make a huge change in my life.  Having to climb snow banks, standing on cold windy/frigid bus stops, and paying high energy-bills just to keep my family warm will definitely age you.  It was that huge snowstorm back in December of 2005 when it took me seven hours to get home.  A six-lane road (Roosevelt Road) was a parking lot covered in falling snow.  The cars and trucks sounded so quiet like powder.  I couldn’t hear or distinguish the difference from the sidewalk or street.  Yes, I was scared!  I am an excellent cane traveler but that experience forever made me realize that there had to be an easier/safer way for me to make a living.  I had to get home to my boys—I’m all they have now that their dad has passed on.  I often said, “I’m not going to retire here.”  I’m going to where it’s warm in the winter.  I envied my sister-in-law who moved alone with her children a few years ago.  “If she can do it, I can.”  I thought to myself.  So the adventure began from Chicago, Illinois to Phoenix, Arizona.  “You’re crazy!” people remarked.  “You’ll never make it.”  “It’s dangerous--you’re going through a midlife crisis.”  So some remarked.  For anyone who knows me, that’s the last thing to say to me or think about me because I’ll do just the opposite.  No obstacle or barrier will stop or discourage my determination. And, so the planning began.

        Two months prior to my sister-in-law’s loss of life to breast cancer, I phoned her for support.  I began surfing the internet just to get an idea of the type of housing, schools, transportation options and the best communities for blind people to live in.  I remember reading an article in the “Braille Forum” back in January of that year about Arizona hosting the 2010 Convention and thinking that I would love to be there.  The view of the state on the computer was attractive.  But I needed to know how blind people truly lived there.  Since I recently retired from the Chicago Lighthouse, I wondered if they had a facility similar.  I visited the Arizona Center for The Blind’s website.  But I needed to know more!  Wait! I thought, I’m a member of the American Council of The Blind!  “They must have members like me?”  So I called Ray Campbell, President of the Illinois Council and a long-time friend and asked him to introduce me to Arizona’s President.  Of course, he did and that’s when I met both Ron Brooks and Barbara McDonald.  These two individuals who I corresponded with via e-mail gave me a more personal idea of life for them with their families and warmly welcomed me.  There was no turning back now.

        Next step, how to tell my friends and family, primarily my teenaged sons and my elderly father.  Naturally, my sons were reluctant (angry) but my father was wonderful!  That was the response or boost I so desperately needed to accomplish this mission.  He provided the airfare saying, “You need to do what’s best for you.”  He and my mother never treated me different from my sighted brothers and sisters.  He somehow knew the challenges I faced on a daily basis as a blind person.  I got scared because this once dream was now becoming a reality.  My five brothers helped pack our things saying, “Only bring what you need.  You’re going 2000 miles”.  So after an emotional farewell on September 8, 2008, (the day before my older son’s 18th birthday), we landed at Sky Harbor Airport!

        My sons wondered where the skyscrapers were.  “Welcome to your new life” I said.  I admit, after taking my first breath of Arizona heat, I wondered about this decision I just made.  Still feeling a bit of uncertainty, but I wasn’t going to admit that to them.  I’m the parent, I’m supposed to have all the answers, right?

        We stayed with my sister for a couple weeks prior to moving in to our own home.  Now, 15 months later, I’m learning how to get around; mapping out the streets; locating the restaurants and stores, and miraculously settled down pretty easily.  In addition, I’m proud to report that I was elected board member of AzCB and serving the host committee planning for the 2010 National Convention!  My two sons have adjusted by making friends, working part-time jobs and growing in to young men.  I promised God especially after the death of their father in 2003, I would take good care of them.  But none of this could have been possible without the love, support and guidance of so many people.  I remember telling my father, “Don’t worry, dad. Blind people watch out for each other. Only we know what we need”.  I explain to my sighted family and friends that I think of living with a disability as a gift.  I had the strength to make the change I needed to make and the courage to reach out to humans and ask for help because of the life lessons I have learned because of my blindness.  Illinois will always be my home base, but now I can take my talent, skills, and knowledge and share them with my new colleagues.  Isn’t that what God asks us to do?

        So as I prepare for the holidays, I realize that the gift I prayed for won’t be under the tree. It has already been given to me and I’m living it. And, let’s not forget our troops fighting for our independence this season. To them I say thank you.  Only in America could I, a totally blind single mother, make such a decision so freely, safely and with dignity.

        When you fellow ACB members and viewers read this, we’ll have already welcomed the second decade of the century! “A brand new beginning!”  As I close, I thank God, my dear friends and family and ACB for being available to me.  Lastly, I don’t believe in asking myself, “What if?  Should I have?  Maybe I should have?”  I just answered my own personal question by just living a big lesson in life that daunted me for so long.

Happy holidays to all of you from my family to yours.


AzCB Convention Watch By Ron Brooks

          Now that the holiday parties have ended, and the relatives have all gone home, it’s time to start thinking about Spring, and all the joys which that season holds—the wonders of warmer weather, the birds flying north, the crack of the bat on ball, the smell of the grill, the kids finishing school, the tax returns coming due, and yes, the return engagement of the Arizona Council of the Blind Annual Convention.

        The AzCB Convention Committee has been at work since last fall planning for the biggest and best convention ever, and we want to give you a short update.  We also want to invite you to start making your plans to join us for this exciting event.

        When – The convention will take place all day on Friday, April 16 and during the morning of Saturday, April 17, 2010.

        Where – All events will take place at the Phoenix International  Airport Holiday Inn Crown Plaza Hotel, located at 4300 East Washington Street in Phoenix.  The hotel is located on the northwest corner of 44th and Washington Streets in Phoenix.

        It is served by Phoenix and East Valley Dial-a-Ride services, by a number of Valley Metro bus routes, including routes 1, 32 and 44, and it is across the street from both the Phoenix Light Rail and the Airport Light Rail Connector buses which connect all airport terminals with the Light Rail system.

        The hotel also offers its own complementary airport shuttle. In addition to a great location, the hotel boasts a full-service bar and restaurant as well as a Starbucks in the Lobby—not to mention a pool, fitness facilities and a number of other amenities.

        For this convention, we have secured a special room rate of $79 per night plus 12.1% guest room tax, and there may be additional hotel subsidies for AzCB members who stay in the hotel.

        The deadline for booking your room at the Holiday Inn Crown Plaza is April 1, 2010, but you can book any time by calling the hotel at (602) 273-7778.  When you call, mention the AzCB to get the promotional rate of $79 per night.

        More About the Convention. Each year, we offer a two-day event, chocked full of informative workshops and exciting events, which are specifically geared to enable you to learn more about issues of importance to people who are blind or visually impaired; to experience technologies, products and services which are designed for use by people who are blind or visually impaired; and/or to enable you to network with people in the blindness and visual impairment communities.

Here are just a few of the highlights of this year’s convention:

        Workshops addressing a number of topics relevant to people who are blind or visually impaired

        An Exhibits area featuring the latest products and services designed especially for the use and benefit of people who are blind and visually impaired

·       several parties and mixers, including our 2010 Annual Convention Banquet, where you can meet and mingle with old friends and new acquaintances

        To Register – This year, the AzCB will make convention registration easier than ever.  Watch this newsletter as well as our website,, for information on how to register and prepay for your convention attendance on line.

        Why Attend the Convention? One of the questions we’ve been hearing is “why attend?” and especially in light of the fact that the American Council of the Blind will hold the national ACB Conference and Convention in Phoenix from July 10-17, 2010.

        Well, we think there are lots of reasons to attend our Arizona event.  Here are just a few:

        The Convention Committee is working hard to give our state convention a real “Arizona” focus.  That means programs, speakers and exhibitors will be geared to meet the specific informational, product and service needs of Arizonans.

        As anyone who has ever been to an ACB national convention knows, there is more to do, more workshops to attend, more exhibits to see, and more tours to enjoy, than time will permit.  With this in mind, we will have a representative from the American Council of the Blind who will give us an update on ACB business as well as an overview of the convention and our roles and responsibilities as the host affiliate.  As a result, those who attend the AzCB convention will be better able to have a meaningful and rewarding experience at our upcoming national convention.

        In Arizona, we pride ourselves on friendship and having fun.  Our state convention is an excellent opportunity to connect with your local friends and acquaintances that may get lost in the crowds at the national convention.

        Most important of all, the AzCB Convention is where we hold our annual business meeting.  The AzCB belongs to you, its members, so we need you to come to our convention in order to hold elections, to adopt resolutions on topics of relevance to blind and visually impaired Arizonans and to conduct the business of our vital organization.

        The bottom line is that both the AzCB and ACB national events will be worth your time and effort to attend, so we hope to see you at the AzCB Convention in April and again at the ACB Conference and Convention in July.


Phoenix Chapter Update by Gail Wilt

        On November 16th, the Phoenix Chapter held elections.  Tom Belsan was elected Secretary/Treasurer, succeeding Barbara McDonald, who ably filled that position for 2 years.  Thanks, Barbara!  Thank you Tom, for your willingness to serve. Geri McGinty was retained as Vice President, and Gail Wilt as President.

        Also at the November meeting we had a wonderfully informative guest speaker – optometrist Dr. Lisa Chiles, low vision specialist based at the Foundation for Blind Children (which also serves adults). She strongly advised that everyone including those who are totally blind take good care of their eyes, which are connected with the body’s general health; it is recommended that we schedule a visit with an ophthalmologist annually (whether we think we need it or not).  She urges that those with some residual vision use protective eye wear (i.e., polycarbonate lenses), which guard against injury, reduce drying, and protect from ultraviolet rays, which can contribute to vision loss.

        In addition, Dr. Chiles talked about Charles Bonnet syndrome (or CBS for short). CBS causes some people with retinal conditions to periodically experience visual hallucinations, vivid images of things that are not there (e.g., a brick building at the end of one’s driveway). The exact mechanism causing these phenomena is unclear; it seems as if the brain is trying to create vision of the clarity it once knew. (Incidentally, Dr. Chiles serves adults as well as children.)

        The National Braille Press has made available wonderful tactile representations of the American flag.  You can feel each of the 50 stars and 13 stripes (the red stripes are a different texture from the white).  The Pledge of Allegiance is written in braille and print over the stripes.  Each flag is made from a thin plastic sheet (so it needs a firm backing to give it stability (e.g., a certificate frame).  AzCB is sending framed flags to President Obama, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (now Secretary of Homeland Security), and to Kareem Dale, special assistant to the President on Disability Policy (who happens to be visually impaired).  Each flag will be accompanied by a letter underscoring the significance of our having available flags in such an accessible format, as well as thanking each individual for his/her efforts to advocate for opportunities for people with disabilities.

        Phoenix Chapter Meetings are held on odd-numbered months, 4th Tuesday, at the Old Spaghetti Factory, on Central, one block south of McDowell (1418 N Central Ave Phoenix) Even-numbered months we do a social/recreational activity.  This year outings have included bowling, a light-rail trip to a Tempe restaurant for lunch, and a Diamondbacks game.  Our January meeting will be the 26th; next would be March 23.  For more information, contact Gail Wilt at 602-337-8190 or


A Little History

        In 1947, a small group of individuals who were blind and visually impaired began meeting in each other's homes (Maricopa County Club of the Blind) to learn ways to help each other achieve economic independence. Training sessions were conducted in the few "job trades" available to individuals who were blind during that era. Over time, the number of groups and meeting locations grew. The Maricopa Club provided the foundation for the establishment of the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the AzCB.


Maricopa County Club of the Blind Update from Sharon Carpenter

        During the first quarter of 2009, the club membership worked on revisions for the Constitution and By-Laws.  This discussion will resume in January of 2010.

        In May, we elected new officers.  Ruth Druding is now President, Arie Levels-Newsom is Vice-President, Robert Shelly is the returning Secretary, and Sharon Carpenter is the returning Treasurer.

        In June, there was the Annual Pizza Party.  This year we tried something different.  We ordered pasta from a local restaurant.  It was a big hit, and we might try it again in 2010.

        November found us a Ruth Druding's home for yet again a fabulous turkey with trimmings dinner. Thank you Ruth for all your work. As I write this I am getting ready to gather again at Ruth's home for our Holiday Party. 

        Everyone in the MCCB Membership wishes our fellow AzCB members and affiliates a very Merry and Safe Holiday Season!!!

Sharon Carpenter, Treasurer

Maricopa County Club of the Blind

Secretary of Arizona Council of the Blind    602-472-8704


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