Pat Byrne, Donka’s High-flying Board Member

“Don’t say I can’t do something because I’m blind.”

Pat Byrne, Donka board member, in free fall with his sky diving instructor

Pat Byrne in action skydiving with his instructor. Image clipped from Skydive East Tennessee video on YouTube.

They say life is a journey, and for Pat Byrne, it’s been quite a ride. A recent addition to Donka’s Board of Directors, Pat strengthens the group with his passion for tech, business savvy, and adventurous spirit. He also happens to be blind which brings a deeper understanding of living Donka’s mission.

Married for over 40 years to Ann, an instructor at Donka who is also blind, Pat is a devoted family man with four children, multiple grandchildren, and even a great-granddaughter. He enjoys reading and trying out new technology. “Ann and I own and use practically all of the adaptive technology out there,” he shared.

Helping Others Navigate the World

Pat is no stranger when it comes to helping others. When he worked at the Center for Independent Living, he worked with visually impaired communities in DuPage, Kane, and Kendel counties to help them understand their transportation options. He was also an instructor at Hines VA, “I trained blind Vets how to program,” he said.

Getting into Tech

Programming is where he spent most of his career. “There was a time in the 60s when they trained blind people to be programmers,” he reminisced. “At Illinois Bell, I helped automate directory assistance. I’m pretty proud of that.” He’s modest but back in the early 80’s, he was part of the team that revolutionized directory assistance by bringing it into the digital age.

Answering the Call of Coffee

Despite his success in the tech world, Pat’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to explore new horizons. “Owning a coffee shop might be fun,” he thought. So, he dove into owning and operating several coffee shops in local train stations. “It was fun, but it wasn’t easy,” he said. While making a profit can be a challenge, he managed well by knowing his customers’ needs. When Starbucks opened across the street from one of his locations, customers quickly learned that waiting there for a coffee might make them miss their train. “Our service was quick. These were people that needed their coffee and needed to be on their way. It only took someone one time missing their train because of waiting for Starbucks to reconsider where they should get their coffee.”

With Some Fun Along the Way

“When I was a teenager, my brother let me drive the car in the alley. He talked me through it, and I think I did pretty well. One of our neighbors saw and ran back into his house.” Unlike his spontaneous driving lesson, his flying lesson was well-planned.

“One Christmas I received a flying lesson as a gift from Ann.” While he and Ann have great senses of humor, this was no joke. The instructor taught her students how to fly with instruments only as part of her course. “She would blindfold her students and talk them through how to operate the plane. So, I was talked through every part, the take-off, flying, and landing. I flew for about 45 minutes and even went over my house.”

Because staying in a plane made too much sense, he’s also jumped out. “Skydiving was fun. I was only planning to be an observer but was talked into trying it. I’m glad I did.” 

Privileged to Serve

Pat’s business savvy and tech experience make him a great addition to the Donka board. His sense of adventure is an added bonus.

We’re thankful to have Pat on our board, and he feels the same way, “I’m privileged to serve on the board and help support the many talented people at Donka. They give people with disabilities the ability to work with computers. Anyone can get the tech, but you need training.”


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