Vision Impairment Organizations and Support Services

If your child has a vision impairment, know that there’s no shortage of partners to help you.

Schools and healthcare providers are key, but schools may be limited to providing support in the classroom. And, doctors are often concerned with medical management.

That leaves a lot of room for other organizations to step up and offer support to visually impaired children and their families. Luckily, they have.

Pennsylvania Association for the Blind

Pennsylvania Association for the Blind provides support to its statewide network of member agencies, empowering them to help Pennsylvanians prevent, prepare for and manage vision loss. From the map on its website, you can click on your home county to find the agency that provides vision services close to home.

The Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS)

The BBVS provides services to children that add to the support they’re getting at school and through their doctors.

Assign a social worker to your family.

The social worker will advocate for your child’s best interest.

This might include attending IEP meetings and guiding you on what should be happening in school, such as:

  • Where your child should be developmentally.
  • Whether the school is providing all the proper services.
  • Whether your child has needs that the school isn't meeting.

Pair your child with a vocational counselor.

Once your child turns 14, it’s time to start thinking about what he or she might do after high-school graduation.

Your child will start working with a BBVS vocational counselor to form a transition plan.

This may include:

  • Career exploration.
  • Work-based learning.
  • Help with planning for college.

Offer night and summer classes

The BBVS can increase your child’s independence through evening and summer instruction in:

  • Independent living skills — cooking, dressing, laundry, and money management.
  • Using a white cane, taking the bus, learning to listen to traffic cues, and crossing streets safely.
  • Forming mental maps and orienting to cardinal directions.

They can also help visually impaired kids learn to speak up for themselves.

Other BBVS services

  • Connect your family with programs, camps, and other vision impairment resources and help make them affordable.
  • Help maintain a current diagnosis of your child’s vision level.
    BBVS offers free low vision exams and can help:
    • Make sure your child is using the best aids for his or her current degree of vision impairment.
    • Make equipment that your child is using at school available at home, such as screen readers.

The BBVS is part of the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR).

“Parents should be talking to us at the same time that they’re talking with their doctor and special education services. We’ll guide them through the whole process.” – Catherine Getchell, PA OVR.

The Pittsburgh BBVS office serves families living in the following counties:

  • Allegheny
  • Armstrong
  • Beaver
  • Butler
  • Fayette
  • Green
  • Indiana
  • Washington
  • Westmoreland

The Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children (WPSBC)

The WPSBC operates educational programs for kids, ages 3 to 21, who have visual impairment and other disabilities.

They also have a robust outreach program that partners with families, school districts, agencies, healthcare providers, and therapists.

Vision impairment services from the WPSBC

  • A cortical visual impairment clinic, including:
    • Full evaluation of your child.
    • Consults and support.
    • Suggestions for programming (both family and educational teams are welcome).
  • Assistive technology (AT) assessments where students have the chance to try out:
    • Hand-held magnifiers
    • Video desktop magnifiers
    • Video handheld magnifiers
    • Stand magnifiers
    • Telescopes
    • Bar and field magnifiers
    • Braille production and display
    • Book readers
    • Accessories and reading stands
    • Software
  • Assessments by a multidisciplinary team of:
    • Teachers of visually impaired students
    • Orientation and mobility specialists
    • Physical and occupational therapists
    • Speech/language pathologists
    • Behavioral therapists
    • School psychologists
  • Other vision impairment services, including:
    • Lending library
    • Consulting services, including IEP recommendations
    • Braille instruction
    • Independent living skills classes
    • Problem-solving support via Skype from AT specialists to assist teachers in the classroom

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Eye Center

If a child has a vison disorder, it’s vital to pinpoint where it originates:

  • A cataract
  • The optic nerve
  • The seeing part of the brain (visual cortex)

At the Eye Center, our fellowship-trained pediatric ophthalmologists and opticians can assess the entire visual pathway.

Our dedicated diagnostic suite includes:

  • Electrophysiology — to help us assess the function of the retina (film at the back of the eyeball) and the optic nerve.
  • The latest imaging technologies to document baseline appearances and to quickly capture changes during follow-ups.
  • Nerve fiber analysis — to diagnose changes in glaucoma or other conditions of raised pressure).

Ophthalmologic genetic counselors can provide full evaluations. These allow parents whose children have genetic diagnoses to access potential gene therapies throughout the U.S.

While gene therapy isn't suitable for all diagnoses, doctors are increasingly using it to treat some genetic vision disorders — including retinal dystrophy.

In cases where doctors can't prevent a child's visual impairment, we offer substitute and artificial vision technologies including:

  • Brainport®
  • Retinal implants
  • Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System

You can access all of these through the Eye Center if they meet your child's needs.

We also have an unwavering commitment to fostering communication among all members of a visually impaired child’s team, including:

  • Parents
  • Healthcare specialists
  • Teachers
  • Social workers

This team approach allows us to go a long way toward helping kids with visual impairments maximize his or her potential.

While most of the advanced technologies we offer are at our Eye and Ear Institute in Oakland, we also see children at: