Over the course of more than 100 years, Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh has helped thousands of people with vision loss find their way to independence. There are not many agencies such as BVRS in the United States, and our nationally acclaimed programs draws clients from as far away as Hawaii, Montana, Oklahoma, Maine, and occasionally from other countries. Here’s how it all began:
YESTERDAY: A private response to a public need
In 1910, a number of Pittsburgh organizations and private citizens workedto create the organization that was to become the Pittsburgh Blind Association. Their goal was to provide employment for people who were blind or vision impaired and increase awareness of blindness prevention.
In the early 1900s, industrialization was in its infancy and fraught with unsafe conditions. For workers who were maimed or blinded on the job, the choices were few. An estimated 7,000 blind adults lived in Pennsylvania at that time and no social safety nets existed — no job retraining, no workers’ compensation, no social security, and no welfare. Injured workers relied on the kindness of their families or begged in the streets to survive.
Also at that time the leading cause of blindness was ophthalmia neonatorum, a condition that babies contracted at birth when they were exposed to harmful bacteria in the birth canal. Few people knew that a few drops of silver nitrate placed in babies eyes would kill the bacteria and prevent blindness.
Coming together to form the agency that would address those two major problems were The Pittsburgh Section, Council of Jewish Women, The Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Pittsburgh School for Blind Children, along with private individuals Phoebe J. Ruslander, a prominent Pittsburgh community leader, and leading Pittsburgh ophthalmologist William Wightman Blair, MD.
Nearly 60 years later, Monsignor Paul M. Lackner, working with the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, formed the organization that was to become The Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind to meet the daily and social needs of Pittsburghers. Founded in 1959, the Guild offered a rehabilitation program that taught people how to manage their lives with vision loss. Their mission became Independence through Rehabilitation.
With PBA’s focus on employment and blindness prevention and the Guild’s mission of rehabilitation, vision-impaired Pittsburghers were well served. In 1997 they merged to become Pittsburgh Vision Services, maintaining their facilities at Bridgeville and Oakland. In 2005 the merger was completed when the buildings of both agencies were sold and the new agency, renamed Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, moved to its current location in the former Homestead Hospital at 1800 West Street, Homestead, PA 15120.
TODAY: Training, employment, and rehabilitation lead to independence
Today, the 106-year-old private, nationally accredited nonprofit agency carries out the missions of both predecessor agencies by providing rehabilitation and blindness prevention programs at Homestead and employment through PBA Industries, the manufacturing and assembly division, and PBA Products and Services, the commercial services division, both located on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
Today’s goal is the same as yesterday’s: To provide blindness prevention education to the public and the rehabilitation training and jobs that people with vision loss need to become as independent as possible in all areas of their lives. BVRS programs include:
- Personal Adjustment to Blindness Training
- Vocation and Employment Services
- Low Vision Services
- State-of-the-Art Computer Access Technology Center
- Summer Youth Programs
- Services for Seniors
- Children’s Vision Screening
- In-Home Instruction
- Community Services
- Day Programs for People with Disabilities
TOMORROW: The next 100 years
The response of private citizens — so strong yesterday — is vital today for a strong tomorrow.
You can powerfully impact someone’s future. With your involvement, BVRS will continue to provide the jobs and training that are essential for people with vision loss to live independent, fulfilled lives and to achieve their dreams well into the next century.
- Refer a person with vision loss to BVRS
- Make a donation
- Tell people about BVRS
- Donate a vehicle you no longer need
- Become a volunteer
- Tour BVRS
- Provide jobs
- Make a bequest
- Attend or hold a fundraiser
- Request a speaker for your service group
- Sponsor a vision-impaired person in a BVRS program
- Volunteer as a Preschool Vision Screener
- Consider a career in the blindness field
- Join a BVRS Auxiliary
- Donate used optical aids for others to use
- Designate BVRS—Number 885171—for United Way donations
Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh 1816 Locust Street Pittsburgh, PA 15219 Phone: 412-368-4400 Fax: 412-368-4090 PBA Industries 1816 Locust Street Pittsburgh, PA 15219 Phone: 412-368-4400 Fax: 412-325-7500 South Hills Low Vision Office 4411 Stilley Road at Route 51 Suite 204 Pittsburgh, PA 15227 Phone: 412-715-2705 Somerset County Blind Association 1590 N. Center Avenue Suite 100 Somerset, PA 15501 Phone: 814-445-1310
140 N. Beeson Ave.
Uniontown, PA 15401