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Agenda will be updated soon.




You don’t want to miss this full day of presentations that will leave you inspired, informed and improved. Join the conference that brings  Arizona’s blind and low vision community together. Each hour will be filled with topics that will help you “expand your world,” and is sure to keep you interested throughout. The session will take place over Zoom and it will be the same link for the entire day. At the end of each presentation, you have a chance to win a door prize! Let’s expand our world together.


Friday, November 13, 2020

8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

General Session


8:00 a.m. -  Doors open


8:30 a.m. - Welcome and overview of VRATE 2020: Jordan Moon, 2020 VRATE Chair


9:00 a.m. - Low-Cost Resources and solutions: Gail Wilt, Moderator

This session will be an overview of resources for people who are visually impaired or blind – especially those who do not have a smartphone.


10:00 a.m. - 2020 Keynote: Steve Welker, Motivational Speaker and Resiliency Trainer

VRATE is honored to have Steve Welker, author, motivational speaker, and resiliency trainer as our virtual speaker this year. Steve has given hundreds of speeches to corporate clients, associations, professional sports organizations, major universities, and church groups. Steve is the author of the inspirational book The World at My Fingertips- My personal story of triumph over tragedy. He also co-authored with his wife, Dr. Kristina Welker, Radical Resiliency- Steps for climbing to new heights regardless of life’s challenges. In this unique presentation, Steve shares his personal story, as well as offering the blind and visually impaired  some tips and tricks for surviving the COVID lockdown while at home.

For more info about Steve and his marvelous guide dog Orbit, please visit

11:00 a.m. - How Do I keep Going? Adjustment  Panel

It is not easy to think of “expanding your world” when you experience vision loss. However, with the right mind frame and dedication, you can learn that just because you can’t see well, doesn’t mean you have to stop yourself from going after what you want. Come join this great discussion that will leave you feeling inspired to keep moving forward.


12:00 p.m. - Virtual Meetings:   A New Norm for Job Interviews

Come hear from the Arizona Governor’s Council on Blind and Visual Impairment’s Employment and Assistive Technology committee as they talk you through the do’s and don’ts of the virtual interview. Come learn how you can master the virtual environment and land that job you’re interviewing for. Don’t miss this interactive presentation.


1:00 p.m. - A Lifetime of Assistive Technology: David Steinmetz, Moderator

Join the leaders of assistive technology training in Arizona as they discuss how assistive technology plays a role in almost every step and aspects of our life in ways we don’t even realize.


2:00 p.m. – The Power of Proper Education for Blind and Low Vision Students, Christine Tuttle, Moderator 

Come hear from leaders in the special education field in grade school, high school and at the university level as they talk about the importance of empowering and believing in the capability of blind and low vision students. Come learn about the proper skills and expectations for students no matter what level of learning they are at.


3:00 p.m. Social Security and Blindness

Join Jack Burns of the Social Security Administration as he discusses all things blindness and social security benefits. Please come with questions.


4:00 p.m. Advocating while Blind: Making Sure Our Voice is Heard, Tom Simmons, Moderator

Join the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona and the Arizona Council of the Blind as they come together and discuss their advocacy efforts and what they see coming down the pike. Come with your questions and leave empowered to help blind and low vision Arizonans expand their world. Residing in Tucson  for over a decade, Chris Desborough has been very active throughout  the state advocating for the  rights of the disabled, most notably those living with  both hearing and vision loss.

He was invited to deliver the keynote address at the State capital in 2017 by the Arizona Commission for the deaf and hard of hearing in support of their efforts to secure  funding for specialized services for  those living with combined vision and hearing loss. He has also spoken at VRATE, served on the City of Tucson's  committee on disability issues,  was President of the Arizona Association of the deaf blind, served for  4.5 years on the  GCBVI deafblind issues committee, and also runs a small non-profit dedicated to advocacy for those living with combined vision and  hearing loss.

Chris holds both a  bachelor's and master's degree in Social Work from Arizona State University and was a recipient of the Gabe Zimmermann Award for Community  service in  2017.


He currently works as a Council Aide to one of the members of the Tucson City Council  and is a passionate advocate of disabled rights and equal  opportunity in the workplace.

Having been born and raised in London, England he is a lifelong supporter of the Premiership soccer clubs Arsenal and Watford, and is also a lifelong, passionate fan of the San Francisco 49ers and san Francisco Giants


Please note that presentations will end around the 45 minute mark of each hour to hear a word or two from some local agencies that serve blind and low vision Arizonans and our sponsors.



2019 Speakers & Presenters

Guide Dog Users Panel

​A panel of guide dog users and providers will discuss issues of guide dog use.  They will explain the process for acquiring a service animal and the user training requirements.  Dog handlers will talk about the pros and cons of using a guide. They will share their personal stories of freedom, frustration, joy and sorrow in their relationships with their dogs.

​Presenter Host: Michael 'Big Dog' Abell, MSPC, LAC

“I didn’t sign-up for this and other surprises” a conversation

Our guest speakers who each came to blindness at different times in their lives’ will have a candid interactive conversation about their experiences with, loss, love and lessons learned. Host Michael “Big Dog” Abell, Narrative Therapist will guide the presenters talk about their life journeys with opportunities for some audience participation.

​Presenter: Heidi L. Lervik, MA, CRC, ATP

Assistive Technology Resources You Need to Know

People with disabilities, their family members and service providers often struggle to know what type of assistive technology will help them in their everyday lives.  Many people purchase expensive equipment which is often unused or abandoned. The Arizona Technology Access Program (AzTAP) aims to address these issues by providing resources, demonstrations and complimentary short term trial use loaner equipment.

​Presenter: Jack Burns

Social Security Programs and Benefits

Join Jack Burns, Public Affairs Specialist with the Social Security Administration (SSA) answers questions and shares information about the benefit programs and services provided through SSA

​Presenter: Brittaney M. Chipley, MPA

AZ ABLE “Achieving a Better Life Experience

The presentation will give attendees an overview of AZ ABLE, a savings and investment programs that offer persons with disabilities, their family, and their friends the option to contribute to a tax-exempt savings account for disability-related expenses. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account programs can be life-changing, as it provides an opportunity for people with disabilities to save at least $15,000 a year without affecting their benefits.

​Presenter: Jay Whipple M.S.Ed


Wayfinding Beacons

A Summary of the City of Tempe pilot project in which Bluetooth beacons are being used to help visually impaired individuals navigate the transit system.  Participants from SAAVI were invited to try a beacon-based service that provides real-time location and navigation information. The participants provided feedback, which can be used for system improvements. Jay Whipple will present a summary of the project funded by a grant from the Gila River Indian Community.

​Presenter: GCBVI AT & Employment Committees


AT-BVI (Blind/Visually Impaired) Worksite Evaluation

For people who are blind, work remains the best route to independence and enacting one's own choices. Assistive technology (AT) is often crucial in removing barriers to employment, and in enabling persons with disabilities to work more productively.  The Governor’s Council on Blindness and Visual Impairment Assistive Technology and Employment committees will address the importance and process of the Worksite evaluation. This will include identifying strength and needs of the employee, physical and technology environment, tasks and identification of the assistive technology tools.

​Presenter: Independent Living Services

Gadgets and Tips for safe and fun cooking

The State of Arizona Independent Living Blind (ILB) will discuss the use of gadgets and tips to cook safely for adults with vision loss. We will present low tech items that every family should know about when in the kitchen. The ILB staff will discuss organization, labeling, use of contrast and different tools for food preparation, cooking and food readiness.

​Presenter: Shelbe Olson MT-BC, NMT'S

Music Therapy

Music therapy is a powerful, non-invasive, and non-pharmacological medium capable of unique outcomes. It is accessible to all and can be used with individuals, groups, or families. Music therapy is the specialized use of music by a credentialed professional who develops individualized treatment and supportive interventions for people of all ages and ability levels to address their social, communication, emotional, physical, cognitive, sensory, and spiritual needs.

​Presenter: Arizona Science Center

Road Show

A science program of interest school-aged students, parents and teachers.

Presenter: GCBVI Education Committee

The Education Committee of GCBVI will give an overview of the annual Arizona RSA Blind and Visually Impaired Youth Summer intensive programs.  Attendees will hear from AZRSA Vocational Rehabilitation, private agencies who conduct the programs, parents and teachers, and especially past participants.

Presenter: Keynote Kareem Neal

Arizona Educational Foundation’s 2019 Teacher of the Year.

Kareem Neal is a self-contained Special Education teacher in Phoenix, AZ. He has taught students with severe cognitive delays for 22 years. He is the recipient of the 2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year award and was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University for his contributions to special education in Arizona.

​Presenter: Shelbe Olson MT-BC, NMT'S

Music Therapy ii

Response to rhythm is basic to human functioning making percussion activities and techniques highly motivating to people of all ages and backgrounds.

​Presenter: Betty E. Schoen, M.A., C.R.C.


Vocational Rehabilitation: A Partner for Career Success

The choices young people make in their late teens and early twenties impact their earning potential and work opportunities for the rest of their lives. This presentation provides Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) utilization strategies for to better prepare young adults with disabilities to find, keep, and advance their employment.

​Presenter: Elizabeth Thompson

Arizona Braille and Talking Book Services for Youths

Elizabeth Thompson.librarian at Arizona Talking Book Library will discuss youth and family services available from the Library.  Elizabeth will give attendees an overview of BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) Program. She will focus on Youth Services for the blind and visually impaired. It will include tips on early literacy practices, the benefits of audio books and how to make your programming/activities inclusive for the whole family.

​Presenter: Arizona Independent Living

The State of Arizona Independent Living Blind (ILB) will discuss the use of the Alexa Skill BluePrints to create accessible and educational games for persons with vision loss. These games can be designed to improve the students learning abilities and knowledge at school or home. The ILB staff will discuss how to create a new game utilizing existing templates and questions and how to make it available to the clients or students via Amazon Echo Dots or the Amazon Alexa App on their smart phone.  The audience will have an opportunity to participate in open discussion to share their own ideas regarding other potential areas of use for these games. 

Presenter: SAAVI Game Room


Activities for Young People of Every Age

​Presenter: Mike "Big Dog" Abell

Disability and the Family Dynamic 

Having a family member with a disability can affect the entire family; the parents, siblings, and extended family members. It is a unique shared experience for families and can affect all aspects of family functioning. On the positive side it can broaden horizons, increase family members’ awareness of their inner strength, enhance family cohesion, and encourage connections to community.

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