Begin Main Content Area

Advisory Committee for the Blind of Pennsylvania Meeting Minutes

November 18, 2014

Overbrook School for the Blind
6333 Malvern Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19151

Members Present
Joe Drenth
Arnold Bowser
David De Notaris
Marianne Boltz
Carlton Cook-Walker
Rod Alcidonis

Public Attendees
Gerald Kitzhoffer
Dael Cohen
Carole Bowser
Connie Moonen
Susan Neff
Interpreters: Cindy and Regina
Gus Laffey
Sheryl Fields
Lynn Heitz
Giovanna Ochabillo
Anna Walker
Stan Swaintek
Michael Vovakes
Karen Walsh-Emma
Shelly Faust-Jones
Jackie Brennan

Update from Michael Vovakes, Special Assistant to L&I Secretary

  • It has been a busy few months at OVR/L&I as a whole.
  • August: Jobs First Summit in Pittsburgh - prominent businesses and speakers
  • October: National Disability Employment Awareness Month activities
  • November: Election. Not sure about my future. Bureau Directors should be ok.
  • We continue to do outreach.
  • Thank you for hosting us at Overbrook. It is quite a place.
  • Happy to answer questions, if anyone has anything specific.

BBVS reports - David

  • Thank you Overbrook. Thank you everyone for being here.
  • Staffing: Justin (Gus) Laffey started July 7th. Gus assists us with helping stretch people's minds regarding technology available. He assists customers and employees.
    • Assistive Technology work will impact upon ILOB, VR/Transition & Children's Services
  • Pittsburgh Office has a new DA: Catherine Getchell. Rich Fisher retired. Catherine was the ADA in Norristown BVRS.
  • May 2015: STEM Event (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)
    • In the first session in the morning, we want to bring in individuals who are blind, such as parents and teachers. We want to bring in 8-10 people who are blind who are working in a STEM field.
    • Goal: stretch teachers', parents' and students' minds
    • We will bring in employers as well.
    • Any ideas you might have for an event like that, please share with me.
  • Shelly will meet with Virginia AER. They want to duplicate what we are doing in PA regarding the Summer Academy.
  • We continue to develop Jump Start (ILOB).
    • One individual created a support group from Jump Start.
    • Jump Start fosters the building of communities.

Business Enterprise Program

  • Many issues from Program Monitoring Report have been addressed.
  • We are ensuring we have correct staff in place.
  • Kelly is attending BLAST (Business Leadership and Superior Training) conference in Texas with Rob Schramm, our legal counsel.

Further Updates

  • I attended NCSAB/CSAVR conference last week in Miami, FL.
    • The following topics were discussed:
    • PETs (Pre-Employment Transition Services)
    • WIOA (Workforce Innovation Opportunities Act)
      • Under WIOA, we are obligated to take 15% of our budget and put that towards purchased transition services.
      • There is an emphasis on third party collaboration and partnering with community groups.
      • WIOA allows us to focus on transition age kids and partner with education.
      • Regulations for WIOA have not been written specifically. They may be completed by RSA by January/February 2015.
      • We are bringing in Dr. Schroeder on December 4th at our Executive Director's Meeting to educate us in WIOA.


  • 15%?


  • Clarification: 15% from VR Program entire budget

Brief BBVS Introductions & Comments
Lynn Heitz, Philadelphia DA

  • Thank you Overbrook for hosting this event.

Karen Walsh-Emma, Wilkes-Barre DA

  • Good morning everyone.
  • My parents were students at Overbrook and my uncle was a teacher here. It is a privilege to be here.
  • Thank you for hosting this event.

Introduction to DBLWS (Deaf-Blind Living Well Services) - David

  • There was a grant competition. The grant was awarded to CILCP.
  • We are excited to create opportunities for individuals.
  • Introduced Theo Braddy, Executive Director of CILCP.

Theo Braddy

  • Joint partnership that created this program is a partnership between SILC, ODHH, OVR and BBVS.
  • This is the great collaboration that allowed us to be awarded the contract.
  • We received input from the public at public hearings.
  • There is an underserved population: individuals who are deaf-blind.
  • The awarding agency is the CILCP.
  • Our mission is simple and key: Prevent barriers for individuals with disabilities.
  • We want to give individuals with disabilities an opportunity to live well. We want to give them equality and the opportunity to live well, which means something different for each individual.
  • Over 20 years ago, I had an opportunity to work with individuals who are deaf-blind. I was so involved in getting the attendant care program going that I didn't give that program the attention it deserved. There is an opportunity here to do some things that haven't been done before for people who are deaf-blind. The Attendant Care Waiver is an opportunity for the longevity of this pilot program.
  • Introduced Don Gordon, Program Manager, Deaf-Blind Living Well Services

Don Gordon

  • I am grateful that you invited me to come today.
  • I am excited for this program. We have been waiting for this SSP (Support Service Provider) program to develop for five years.
  • Explained SSP
    • SSPs assist with such tasks as reading things in the environment.
  • We will be providing training to SSPs and participants who are deaf-blind.
  • Training will start in March/April.
  • Individuals can obtain training request via website/phone.
  • We will provide training for deaf-blind participants. We are hoping to start in January, but it may be March/April.
  • We are developing the regulations for the SSPs, and we will be doing background checks on SSPs.
  • Pittsburgh will be the first region we start the training in, then the Southeastern PA region.
  • Fourteen hours per month for each participant
  • We will be providing information via social media and on our webpage. We will have other websites (ODHH, etc.) that will provide info and promote these services.
  • We picked the Pittsburgh region because in our public hearings that was where we determine the need was. The exact location will be determined.
  • Second location: Southeastern PA. Specific place will be determined.
  • Timeframe for training: Begin in January 2015.
  • DBLWS is collecting info online and via email. More details will be posted on the webpage and Facebook.
  • Qualifications of participants will be assessed. Hours will be 1-14 hours per month. Reassessment will be conducted every 6 months. If a situation changes, a participant can request a re-evaluation.
  • We will learn from mistakes and feedback.


  • People can apply to be SSPs or deaf-blind participants?


  • Yes


  • Pittsburgh area?


  • Anyone in the state right now can apply online. We are just looking at phases for rollout.


  • Projected time period to hit statewide?


  • We will do a lot of the trainings close together/coordinated. When we are rolling out in Southeastern PA, we will be looking at other areas as well.


  • Family members?


  • At this time, no family members. Case-by-case basis
  • What we are trying to do: We are looking for continuation of funding. This is a two-year project.  We are trying to roll this out in a similar way to the waiver guidelines.


  • Family members attend trainings to learn?


  • They would have great feedback. We can talk how we would work that out.

Karen Walsh-Emma

  • Regional meetings?


  • Just like we are doing here today, we can tag along to other meetings.


  • Who will be doing the training?


  • We are contracting with NJ Helen Keller Center. We will be getting Donald training soon.
  • Will be using O&M instructors to assist with the training.


  • How many deaf-blind individuals are in PA?


  • We have a list, but I don't have the total.
  • Contract will serve 35 the first year and 50 the second.


  • We recognize that the key is to get this program continually funded.
  • The key is to make our story heard and told.
  • We need to develop a position paper on deaf-blindness and what it entails and our plan to make this program happen in PA.
  • We meet at the top - with the governor - and make our story heard and told. It is important to tell the story. It needs to be told by individuals who are deaf-blind. They need to share the barriers they face.
  • We have to be aggressive and make that change so that people know their story.
  • Thank you for your time.


  • Question regarding BEP report: What is the monitoring tool?


  • It is a tool used by the agents to assist the operators.
  • One of the findings in the Program Monitoring Report was to make sure that agents are helping the operators to the best of their ability. We have had issues with operators being late with paying lottery, for instance.
  • We are exploring how we can best monitor the operators, without being too evasive.

Expo - Joe

  • Two different titles: Braille Awareness Expo and Blindness Awareness Expo


  • We need to vote now on this name.

Carlton makes a motion to make Blindness Awareness Expo the name of the event.
Rod seconds this motion.


  • Date: June 2nd
  • 2015 Blindness Awareness Expo: Education, Employment and Independence
  • Press Release: Expand upon the title. We can talk about braille at the expo and in a press release.

All committee members agree that this should be the title.

BBVS Prescription Pads introduced by David.

Carlton suggested adding QR codes to the pads.


  • These will be used as an outreach tool.
  • We hope that the doctor's offices would call if they need more.


  • At booth, you can have a sign-up sheet where you can sign up to receive more prescription pads.
  • On the back of the pad, you can provide contact information to request more.
  • Add address to the pads.


Overbrook Report – Gerald Kitzhoffer, Director, Overbrook School for the Blind

  • Good morning.
  • This is our 183rd school year.
  • New Assistive Technology employee - Frank
  • We are serving charter schools.
  • Lots of facility upkeep is going on. The pool will be replaced with a greenhouse. There is a three-year project to fix the roof.
  • School to work (18-21 year olds): location change
  • We serve kids with a variety of abilities, multiple challenges.
  • One of our focuses is partnerships and expansion of revenue services.
  • Current enrollment: 197 kids
  • Summer program enrollment: 135
  • We serve 140-150 infants and 30 some preschoolers.
  • On campus starts at ages 3-21.
  • Two kids are at space camp this year.
  • We are primarily state funded.
  • Our student athletes are recognized at Phillies games.
  • We have been in NFL school 50.
  • We are just a day program and no longer a residential program. Just the IL program is overnight.

Dael Cohen, Transition Specialist, Overbrook School for the Blind
Presentation - Transition Services
White Hall IL program

  • Seven students on campus for all week. They practice independent living skills.
  • They are also in a day program that has emphasis on VR skills.

Work Experience Program

  • On campus employment for students.
  • It is not the expectation always that students will be working/living independently.
  • An example of a job - mail handling/delivery
  • Goal: for individuals to get to competitive employment
  • No more government contracts. The benefit is that younger students can work in the workshops. We have secretarial, maintenance, jig assembly and pool/laundry area workshops.
  • Lighthouse cafe - BEP. Students have worked with Don Pearl for about six years now.
  • Students work at the local hardware store.
  • Students work at Walgreens and Wa-Wa.

Transition Planning: Federal Mandate for students 18 yr. and older.

  • Take student/family through what is best plan for that student.

National Agenda and personalizing it for state needs.

  • 10 Goals: PA is working towards developing advisory board, and we would like BVS to be one of the participants. The only way the national agenda will make an impact is if all are involved.
  • Goals of National Agenda
  • 1. Make sure that students get referrals to all services they need
  • 2. Parent participation
  • 3. Personnel preparation
  • 4. Provision of educational services
  • 5. Assessment
  • 6. Access to instructional materials
  • 7. Expanded core curriculum
  • 8. Curriculum needs
  • 9. Transition services
  • 10. Professional development
  • We don't work on all of the goals at the same time. Transition, expanded core curriculum and personnel prep are our focus right now.

Summer Program - TVI - Transition Vocational Initiative

  • This program is for students planning on going to work.
  • 2015 will be the 5th year.
  • This year we are moving to three weeks, and we are going to have the kids work.
  • Twelve students will be at program for three weeks straight and live on campus
  • Job preparation, including interview and resume preparation, will occur.
  • The students look at places where they would like to have a career and where teenagers actually have jobs.
  • The third week now will involve the students working for an entire week at one place.
  • They will take public transportation to work. SEPTA was the biggest hurdle.


  • How many different jobs do the students get to shadow/see?


  • At least 2 different. Some 3-4.


  • Will students get involved with horticultural types of jobs? For example, the greenhouse that will be built.


  • Yes

ILOB Update – Susan Neff

  • We are currently serving 2,036 customers.
  • I completed all level 3 case reviews.
  • Social Worker training is taking place this week.
    • In training, we will be discussing elder abuse and making referrals to other aging services. Additionally, we will discuss being consistent with referrals/outreach and training on Jumpstart. Another topic will be: How to reduce isolation for seniors and how to involve them in the community.
    • I am working with Gus on an assistive technology model for Jump Start.

Assistive Tech Update - Gus

  • My first task was the Summer Academy. I am working with Shelly and David to implement Assistive Technology in all classes at the Summer Academy. Kids learn to advocate for themselves to get the tools they need. Assistive Technology works with other departments, such as Vocational Rehabilitation, during the Summer Academy.
  • iPhones
    • 250 iPhones will be deployed to our staff. Many phones need accessibility tools. I am developing iPhone training for all staff, and we are purchasing IOS training tools.
  • Jumpstart Training: Incorporating Assistive Technology
    • Being able to read anything is the number one desire of the ILOB population.
    • We are integrating book readers into Jump Start.


  • We would like to have a yearly assistive technology summit/learning community.

Recruitment Update – Stan and Shelly 

  • We have challenges filling open positions, particularly O&M. 18 O&M positions. Only 9 are filled.
  • RTs and O&M are harder to fill with interns. They are not the same as VRC.
  • Shelly assisted with re-writing job specs for O&M/RTs [Vision Rehab Therapists (new name)]
    • Updated job requirements and scope of work
    • Included same type of internship position as VRCs
  • With new specs, we are at union review point. They have already been through OA. After that, it will go to Civil Service for final approval.
  • We are encouraging staff to host unpaid internships until paid ones are approved.
  • We are working with Salus University and Pittsburgh University to include the four weeks at Summer Academy as part of their internship experience/program.
  • We are working on strategies to allow our staff to get cross certified through Salus University. The challenge is: How do we support our staff. We need educational leave approval.
  • Secretary Hearthway is interested in looking at pilot project through BBVS to help "grow our own."
  • Part of the problem is that only some of the school education training is online. Individuals would have to be on-campus for several weeks a year.
  • We are hoping to get the training/internship requirements down to 8 weeks.


  • Is the pay that we give O&Ms a barrier?


  • 37K-70K is the nationally average.
  • Our HR department is compiling this information.
  • The challenge is primarily the school districts and the 10-month school year they offer.
  • Our pay scale is 44K-65K.

Public Comment


  • Next meeting is in Harrisburg, PA in February.
  • Suggestions for second meeting of the year: May/June. Salus University? We could hear from Dr. Audrey Smith. Or, we could hear from Dr. Zimmerman from the University of Pittsburgh. We could visit ASB in Philadelphia and hear from Elaine Welsh.


  • Salus University would like to be a part of the Summer Academy, specifically the low vision component.  Interns will come for the first day of the Summer Academy and complete assessments on the kids.


  • Thank you everyone for the meeting.
  • Meeting is adjourned.