In 1989, the much-loved Allen Woody died. The following year his position was filled by our current executive director, Jim LaMay. LaMay had previously been the director of a low vision clinic in Minneapolis, and was an experienced rehabilitation teacher, and orientation and mobility instructor. His overriding goal for the Center was to develop it as a primary resource for the provision of broad-based, fully integrated, state-of-the-art rehabilitation programs and services for adults who were blind and visually impaired. Under LaMay's dynamic leadership, strong and abiding relationships were developed with United Way, the Arizona State Rehabilitation Services Administration and many private foundations throughout the Valley. These resources provided the basic funding necessary to build staff and support broad-based programs and services.
In 1995, with additional funding available from a bequest, the Center acquired space in another building on the Lions Foundation campus and established its Rehabilitation Skills Center. By 1996, the Skills Center, staffed by a cadre of highly skilled professionals, was providing an array of services that included: beginning and advanced itinerant and group rehabilitation skills training; orientation and mobility instruction; comprehensive counseling services; information and referral, social work and community education and outreach services.
Rapid advances in technology during the 1990s made it possible for "blind services" to take a quantum leap forward. The new field of assistive technology allowed specialized software and hardware to interface with standard computers and programs making it possible for individuals with vision loss to read, write, access information and communicate independently just by using a computer. This opened the doors wide for more meaningful employment, education and personal enrichment opportunities.
In 1996, ACBVI hired Robert A. Gates, a teacher and assistive technology specialist. Under Gates' direction at the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired's Assistive Technology Center was created. Today ACBVI's technology center provides state-of-the-art, cross-disability, assistive technology assessment and training to individuals and groups in the home, community, educational setting, worksite and in Center-based classes. The Assistive Technology Center also serves as a primary resource for information and referral for health and service providers, the academic community, Valley employers and the public at large.
Perhaps above all else, in the 1990s one person's positive response to personal tragedy literally changed the face of the Agency. In the mid-1990s Steve Welker was a thirty-something insurance executive on the fast track to success. Then one day, while driving along a surface road in Scottsdale — just two weeks before his twin sons were born — Steve's car was hit head-on by a vehicle being pursued in a high speed police chase. Steve suffered massive internal head injuries and stroke of the optic nerve, leaving him totally blind.
When Steve Welker found the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, he received the Center's full complement of rehabilitation skills training and — most importantly for Steve — he received assistive technology training which made it possible for him to resume his professional career. Today Steve Welker is still fast tracking success as president of his own insurance company.
In the interim, wanting to give back to the Agency, Steve assumed a leading role early on. First as a member of the Board of Directors, then as Vice-president and finally in the position of President, Steve helped identify core issues that needed transformational change.
Recognizing the lack of public awareness about blindness or the Agency's services, Steve became a tireless speaker for United Way leadership presentations, while appearing on numerous radio and television shows and generating newspaper articles. Working closely with Executive Director Jim LaMay and staff — while building the Board of Directors — Steve spearheaded a driving strategic planning process that targeted the need for long-term financial stability and, most pressing, the need for remodeling, consolidation and expansion of the Agency's main facilities.