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Western PA School for Blind Children Offers Extensive Outreach Services
By Nancy Kennedy

For 130 years, the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children (WPSBC) has graced the region as a highly respected, cherished institution that provides top notch education and services to blind and visually impaired children and youth and their families. Even the school's legions of admirers and supporters, however, may be not be fully aware of the depth and breadth of WPSBC's programs and services. Among many other innovative services, the school has an exemplary Outreach Program that takes its services and its expert staff far beyond the walls, into homes and school districts across the region.

Beth Ramella, Director of Outreach Services and CVI Project Coordinator"At WPSBC, we provide direct services to children in their own home school districts," explains Beth Ramella, Director of Outreach Services and CVI Project Coordinator. "We understand that it's not easy for every school district to have teachers who are qualified to teach the visually impaired. We have a team of 12 experienced teachers of the visually impaired; nine of us are also certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists. Our multidisciplinary team has a strong shared work ethic and diverse strengths; it includes a teacher, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech and language therapist and behavior specialist or school psychologist; we provide evaluations, consultations, resources and training. We make recommendations and help school districts develop an individualized plan for the child."

WPSBC's Outreach Program covers a wide geographic area, reaching into Beaver, Mercer, Fayette, Indiana, Westmoreland and Butler counties plus the Pittsburgh Public Schools. In addition, the program serves pediatric hospitals and rehab facilities and Early Intervention agencies. WPSBC's Outreach Program currently serves 20 school districts; 5 Intermediate units; 5 private contractors; 4 Early Intervention programs; one charter school and 5 cyber charter schools. The program includes a lending library, equipment loan program, Braille instruction, independent living skills instruction and staff seminars. All resources, consults and evaluations are provided at cost, with no administrative fees.

According to Ramella, 80% of the children served by WPSBC have Cortical Visual Impairment, or CVI, which means they are visually impaired as a result of an injury to the brain and not a condition of the optic nerve or the eye itself. CVI can be due to birth anoxia, head injury, a genetic syndrome or a neurological disorder. The Outreach Team offers CVI Range assessment and functional visual assessment.

For Ramella and the Outreach team, their work is about much more than providing a range of services. "Children who have visual impairment are entitled to learn just like every other child," she says. "They deserve the same learning opportunities, but too often, they get much less because they don't receive information and education in the way that other kids do, as there aren't enough teachers available who have the skills to do this. What we are doing is helping and supporting their teachers and giving these children access to a curriculum which their sighted friends have, so that they can participate fully. They have dreams for themselves just like any other child and we help make that happen."

To learn more, visit www.wpsbc.org. To contact Beth Ramella, call (412) 621-0100 Ext. 379 or email her at ramellab@wpsbc.org.

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