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Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services Assists with More than Vision
By Lois Thomson

One might think that an organization named Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services would focus solely on helping people who had lost their vision, but that is not true.  As Erika Petach, president and CEO explained, "We help individuals who are blind or who have other disabilities, to achieve their best by providing the services that teach them how to adapt and use new techniques.  These skills allow them to gain independence."

Erika PetachShe said, for example, that BVRS assists people with disabilities, mainly through the vocational program, helping them to learn skills to both find jobs and retain them.  In addition, there's a Day Program, which assists those with developmental disabilities.  "It's a place for them to go where they can socialize, be interactive in the community, and learn life skills."

But there's no doubt that vision services are at the top of the list as to what the organization provides.  Petach said the Low Vision Rehabilitation Program aids individuals who have lost most of their sight, and helps them discover ways to utilize the sight that remains.  "They can see a doctor who can suggest devices to help them do various things, such as cooking their own meals or reading a book."

The Low Vision program provides service to the Pittsburgh area, but Petach said the Personal Adjustment to Blindness Training attracts people from all over the country.  "Most of them have just recently lost their vision, and they come here to learn how to re-do things to help them get back to independence.  Along with learning different techniques, such as how to use a white cane or how to read Braille, they learn how to make sure their clothes match or how to use a telephone – many of the things we take for granted."

Petach said the reason people come from so far away is because there are fewer than 10 such facilities offering this type of program.  "It's very expensive and funding is difficult to get, but it's core to our mission."

Erika Petach, president and CEO, has been at Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh for eight years.  She said during that time, technology has enabled people to do so much more.  "It used to be that a blind person was very recognizable because they had to carry so much with them.  Now they can get apps for so many things – there's a lot less to purchase and carry.  It separates them less from others.  It's a huge difference."

Access Technology is another program offered by BVRS.  Petach said it teaches people how to use technology, especially people who want to go back to school or find work.  "We can help them with iPhones, different software packages – even if it's just to be able to use email, if they are at home by themselves, it can open their world."

Young children also fall under the umbrella of care, as pre-school screenings are offered to test for various vision problems.  Petach said there are diseases that if they are caught early, have a nearly 100 percent chance of reversal, so early discovery is important.  BVRS tests between 12,000 and 14,000 children a year in Allegheny County.

"We also see people in their 90s.  We like to say we take care of people from birth to death."

For more information, call 412-368-4400 or visit www.bvrspittsburgh.org.

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