Services for Pennsylvanians who are DeafBlind

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Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh (BVRS) is a nonprofit agency that provides services for individuals who are blind, visually impaired, or who have other disabilities. We offer services in low vision, personal adjustment to blindness training, computer access technology, employment support services, employment opportunities project, community transition program, employment transition program, senior transition program, and deaf blind program. Each of these programs has their own unique roles in our agency. One of our newest programs is the Deaf Blind Vocational Program, a partnership between BVRS and the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which provides vocational services to Pennsylvania residents with hearing and vision loss. It is one of only a few such programs in the United States. Participants in the Deaf Blind Vocational Program receive a variety of services and training that enhances their independence and assists them in securing competitive employment. Services include personal adjustment to deaf-blindness training, job readiness and job coaching, assistive technology training, orientation and mobility training. Residential accommodations are available. Through the Deaf Blind Program, we have been able to place several people in a variety of employment settings including mailroom, dishwashing, and maintenance.

Deaf blindness affects the whole of the person. Deaf blindness leaves a person feeling very isolated as there is no way to communicate with the outside world. The deaf blind individual’s world ends at their fingertips. This can cause great isolation. By gaining skills in communication and learning how to use assistive technology, the deaf blind individual is able to bridge the gap between the hearing and sighted world and their own world.

If you are interested in finding some assistance for you or someone you know who is Deaf Blind and live in the state of PA please contact me at the information listed at the end of this article. If you are located in another state please look at the list of resources for programs and services for individuals who are deaf blind in your state. The link is also provided on this website.

In addition to the Deaf Blind Program, BVRS also offers Low Vision services, which include a comprehensive low vision evaluation with optical and non-optical device evaluation. Training and rehabilitation strategies with recommended aids are implemented by a team of specialized professionals.

Rehabilitation Services offers a variety of programs that teach blind, vision-impaired or deaf-blind clients how to use their other senses, special equipment and new techniques to live independently. Personal Adjustment to Blindness Training is a comprehensive, immersion program that teaches clients who are vision impaired or deaf-blind how to live independently in their homes and the community. Clients may commute or live in our residence while learning daily living techniques that include money identification, personal grooming, dining, safe cooking, housekeeping, as well as how to participate in community activities and enjoy recreational offerings. Clients learn orientation and mobility, including evaluation and training in sighted guide, the use of a prescription cane, sensory awareness, shopping, and how to use public transportation. Clients develop communication skills in basic Braille, telephone use, record keeping and audio equipment. Instruction in touch-typing benefits beginners who want to proceed to computer training. Clients also benefit from leisure-time activities, fitness program, and a nutritionist who is also a dietician.

The Computer Access Technology Center offers the highest quality training available in the use of adapted computers, software and other electronic devices. Our students range from teenagers to adults of all ages including mid-career professionals, senior citizens and U.S. military veterans. Training is offered in basic computer literacy and word processing, instruction in assembling equipment, installing and updating software, system maintenance, and trouble-shooting. Training on business applications or custom software also can be provided. Workstations are equipped with a wide variety of technology including speech output, screen magnification, Braille displays and optical character recognition systems. Instructors also teach electronic note-taking devices, accessible personal data assistants (PDAs), and split-screen closed circuit TVs (CCTVs). Access Technology students either commute or stay in our residence. In-home or workplace instruction and training also can be arranged. Many of our students have never touched a keyboard, but after successfully completing courses, they are ready to compete in the educational and employment arenas, stay in touch with their friends through e-mail, shop or bank online, or enjoy computers for personal use.

Employment Support Services
BVRS employment specialists offer assistance to both the employer and employee. Employers are assisted in retaining or recruiting and hiring qualified workers. Job seekers are assisted in finding competitive employment. Services include resume and interview preparation, job-seeking skill development, community-based assessments, work site analysis for accommodations, job coaching supports and follow-up services. These services are provided to individuals through Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS), and the Office for Intellectual Disabilities. Individuals do not have to have a visual impairment to qualify for these services. The Employment Opportunities Project is a school-to-work transition program that helps high school students who are blind or have other disabilities find employment. Services include job readiness preparation, mentoring, job shadowing, mock interviews, and community-based work assessments.

BVRS also offers Community Transition Program, Employment Transition Program, and Senior Transition Program at our Homestead campus. The Community Transition Program provides experiences to develop, improve, and expand life-long learning opportunities for adults who have physical impairments or developmental delays. Clients enjoy a low staff-to-client ratio in this structured day program that provides community outings and activities designed to meet their individual needs and development goals. The program is licensed through the Pennsylvania Office of Developmental Programs.

In the Employment Transition Services, persons with vision loss or other disabilities benefit from a variety of jobs and work experiences including stuffing envelopes, collating, labeling and sealing envelopes, and repackaging bulk products, among other work. Participants also have the opportunity to develop vocational skills so they may find jobs in the community. They may also continue working at BVRS. If you are a business or corporation, we welcome your subcontract work. By contracting with us, you will benefit from competitive prices while providing work for persons with disabilities. Employment Transition Services is licensed through the Pennsylvania Office of Developmental Programs.

The Senior Transition Program is a daily living center that serves adults 50 and older who have a variety of disabilities. In this structured day program, clients enjoy a variety of age-appropriate activities including cooking, community outings, and leisure time pursuits such as card and board games. Every month clients bake and sell specialty breads that are sold to BVRS staff. At the end of the year, clients use the proceeds to buy Christmas gifts for local families in need. This program is licensed by the Pennsylvania Office of Long Term Living through the Department of Aging.

If you, or someone you know needs assistance please contact me at
Ashley Norkus
412-368-4400 ext. 2241
1800 West St.
Homestead, PA 15120

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