Phoenix Sister Cities Spread Disabilities Awareness Around the Globe

"An Extended Hand," Marieke Davis, Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix Sister Cities Committee’s (PSCC) Phoenix Disabilities Awareness Committee (DAC), the first of its kind in the sister cities network, is working tirelessly to increase disability awareness in Phoenix and its sister cities, aiming to promote equal opportunities for affected people in communities worldwide. Their current program includes the annual International Competition for Artists with Disabilities, the International Competition for Writers with Disabilities, the International Competition for Photography, adaptive recreation exchanges, workshops on brain injuries, occupational and physical therapy, and exchange of information on mobility and accessibility. 

The DAC was originally formed as an ad-hoc committee before becoming its own official PSCC committee by Mary J. Trunzo, cognitive therapist and speech pathologist, and Michael Sleeseman, a PSCC volunteer who had suffered spinal cord and brain injuries after a motor vehicle accident. Ms. Trunzo and Mr. Sleeseman are the Vice Chair and Chair of the DAC today, and along with other committee members, are continuing to further their efforts in the Phoenix community and abroad.  

Today, the International Competition for Artists with Disabilities is one of the DAC’s most popular programs. The Competition was originally inspired by an artist in Taipei, Taiwan affected by Cerebral Palsy who would create beautiful paintings by foot. The artist’s talent and the Art Competition itself have showed Phoenix and its sister cities’ communities that people with disabilities are just as capable as those without. 

This year’s Ninth Annual International Competition for Artists with Disabilities and First Annual International Photography Competition were held on November 7, 2014. The theme of both competitions was “Inclusion: Breaking Barriers, Opening Doors.” Sixty-one art pieces were submitted for the competition, with entries from local artists in Phoenix and from sister cities Chengdu, China and Taipei. The photography competition received entries from Phoenix, Chengdu, Hermosillo, Mexico, and Taipei. 

For the Artists Competition, the first place winner was Marieke Davis from Phoenix for her piece “An Extended Hand,” the second place winner was Tang Hongwei from Chengdu for “Chatting,” and the third place winner was Kun-Feng Ho with an untitled piece from Taipei. The winner of the People’s Choice Award was Sam Qassim Al Musawi from Phoenix for “Colorful Church.” The Photography Competition winners included first place winner Rob White from Phoenix, second place winner German Ballesteros from Hermosillo, third place winner Fernanda Ballesteros from Hermosillo, and People’s Choice Award winner Jay Chatzkel from Phoenix. All winners received cash prizes. Winners can be viewed in the chart below.

Sister cities Chengdu, Grenoble, France, Hermosillo, and Taipei have been very active participants in the DAC. Each of these cities possess civic resources for living with disabilities, access to disability-friendly facilities, and/or municipal officials and community members with awareness of current disability issues. Phoenix itself is a favorable city for disability access with a consistently growing community impact. 

One example of successful collaboration came after years of working with the disability community in Hermosillo. The DAC looked into how the Committee could have an impact on pre-existing issues within the Mexican community. After researching accessibility in the city, the DAC teamed up with local architects and after five years of hard work, they established legislation similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act for new buildings to be equipped with disability access, including a new elevator in Hermosillo’s City Hall. 

The DAC hopes to continue to create opportunities for their global counterparts through toolkits and membership presentations, expanding their reach to the rest of their sister cities and other sister city programs across the U.S. “Once people learn about disabilities after having little or no experience with disabled individuals, new doors of understanding are opened, it can be awe-inspiring,” said Ms. Trunzo. 

Interested in learning more about starting a Disability Awareness Committee? Visit or email Michael Sleeseman at [email protected] for more information. 

"An Extended Hand," Marieke Davis, Phoenix, AZ

“An Extended Hand,” Marieke Davis, Phoenix, AZ

Artists Competition First Place Winner

"Chatting," Tang Hongwei, Chengdu, China

“Chatting,” Tang Hongwei, Chengdu, China

Artists Competition Second Place Winner

"Untitled," Kung-Feng Ho, Taipei, Taiwan

“Untitled,” Kung-Feng Ho, Taipei, Taiwan

Artists Competition Third Place Winner

"Colorful Church," Sam Qassim Al Musawi, Phoenix, AZ

“Colorful Church,” Sam Qassim Al Musawi, Phoenix, AZ

Artists Competition People’s Choice Award

"Untitled," Rob White, Phoenix, AZ

“Untitled,” Rob White, Phoenix, AZ

Photography Competition First Place Winner

"Untitled," German Ballesteros, Hermosillo, Mexico

“Untitled,” German Ballesteros, Hermosillo, Mexico

Photography Competition Second Place Winner

"Untitled," Fernanda Ballesteros, Hermosillo, Mexico

“Untitled,” Fernanda Ballesteros, Hermosillo, Mexico

Photography Competition Third Place Winner 

"Untitled," Jay Chatzkel from Phoenix

“Untitled,” Jay Chatzkel, Phoenix, AZ

Photography Competition People’s Choice Award