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Message from Executive Director Shannon Austin

Shannon Austin Photo

As the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), my primary focus during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to ensure the health and safety of our customers and staff, while continuing to provide essential services to assist individuals with disabilities. Since the beginning of March, Pennsylvania has been dealing with the uncertainty and incredible challenges caused by COVID-19. This pandemic has greatly impacted our agency, local communities, state government and businesses. My thoughts are with all Pennsylvanians who have been affected and especially with the families who have lost loved ones as a result of this virus.

I want to sincerely thank our staff, providers and all stakeholders for their ongoing efforts and feedback during these unprecedented times. Your collective input, coupled with Governor Wolf’s leadership and guidance, has allowed OVR to adapt and adjust our service delivery to ensure that OVR customers continue to receive OVR services. While OVR district offices are currently closed pursuant to Governor Wolf’s Stay At Home Order, OVR staff continue to telework in order to provide services remotely. Please know that, even though our district offices are not open, OVR is still accepting new referrals. You can apply for services by submitting a pre-application via the PA CareerLink® or by contacting your local OVR District Office. Please also feel free to visit our Customer Frequently Asked Questions page for additional information and resources.

As of March 14, 2020, OVR has been working closely with the Governor’s Office and Labor & Industry leadership to accomplish the following:

  • OVR has transitioned approximately 97% of our staff to telework status and has provided essential equipment, telework guidance and web-based technology training to staff so we can continue to serve OVR customers.

  • In addition to providing the proper technology and accommodations for working from home, OVR’s Bureau of Blindness & Visual Services Special Programs team has dedicated more than 110 hours to assistive technology specific telework training functions for staff and made available apps such as Aira to remove accessibility barriers for staff who are blind or visually impaired and working remotely.

  • April 24, 2020, marked the end of the Hiram G. Andrews Center/Commonwealth Technical Institute (HGAC/CTI) spring term. Most students were able to successfully complete the term via remote/virtual instruction, and nearly 60 students graduated. On May 4, 2020, the CTI summer term began by providing on-going remote/virtual instruction only for continuing students who are already enrolled in a CTI training program. For more information regarding HGAC, please visit the HGAC Frequently Asked Questions page.

  • OVR has issued guidance on the provision of Pre-Employment Transition Services and Supported Employment services during COVID-19. To access this guidance, please visit our Provider Guidance page.

As we remain resilient through this pandemic, we are aware of the many questions that may arise regarding our services. We will continue to adhere to Governor Wolf’s directives as he begins to implement his strategies to reopen Pennsylvania. We encourage your feedback and collaborations as we develop a strategic plan for OVR that will ensure the needs of all individuals with disabilities as we come together during this time.

Please review the links provided in this announcement and those below for the most up-to-date information related to OVR services and Governor guidelines. These links will be updated on a consistent basis as it relates to Governor Wolf’s directives, COVID-19 data and the return-to-work plan, as well as guidance provided by the Rehabilitation Service Administration (RSA).

In closing, I want to again thank everyone for their ongoing input specific to OVR services. I look forward to a time in the near future when we can meet in person to reimagine OVR service delivery to best meet the needs of individuals with disabilities as Pennsylvania and the nation work to rebuild the economy post COVID-19.

Shannon Austin, M.S., CRC, CWDP, GCDP, OWDS
Executive Director
PA Department of Labor and Industry
Office of Vocational Rehabilitation

If you are a Commonwealth employee and need support during these challenging times, please feel free to contact the State Employee Assistance Program at 1-800-692-7459.

The Wolf Administration stresses the role Pennsylvanians play in helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover any coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands.
  • Clean surfaces frequently.
  • Stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19, especially if you are unwell.
  • If you must go out for a life-sustaining reason, please wear a mask.

Updated Coronavirus Links: Press Releases, State Lab Photos, Graphics

All Pennsylvania residents are encouraged to sign up for AlertPA, a text notification system for health, weather and other important alerts like COVID-19 updates from commonwealth agencies. Sign up today via Ready PA’s website.