Alumni Bulletin 2016
Dear fellow alums:
Another year has gone by since we last met at the convention. I hope you all have remained happy and healthy in that time. Finally, the temperatures are warming, and those favorite summertime activities are moving into full swing. Hello summer!
To cap off what promises to be a pleasant season this year, we have scheduled our biennial social fun day for September 10th, 2016, at the school, from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. As a one-time special gift to all alumni members and spouses who have helped raise money for our organization through the years, we’re offering this event free of charge. Guests still pay a nominal admission charge of $8 per person. This is our way of saying thanks for all your hard work and perseverance in helping preserve our organization well into the 21st century. Please pay for any guests in advance by sending a check made out to WPSBC Alumni Association. Send checks to Joanna Berkovic (375 N Craig ST Apartment 210 Pittsburgh Pa, 15213. No payments at the door will be accepted.
Hope to see all of you there. In the meantime, do enjoy this information-packed bulletin.
Your alumni association president,
The following comes from WPSBC Eye To Eye which is a monthly inhouse newsletter. Each month there’s a section titled 10 things I Didn’t Know About You.
10 Things I Didn’t Know About You!
This is our take on the popular US Weekly feature.
This edition features Ted Crum who works in Receiving.
I have worked at WPSBC for 20 years.
2. I like to hunt for raccoons and deer.
3. I like to gamble on sports for fun.
4. I order my steak medium rare to medium.
5. If I was on a deserted island, the one thing I would want is a radio.
6. While I was a student at WPSBC, I got to meet Steelers greats Terry Bradshaw and Jack Ham.
7. I also got to meet a bunch of Pittsburgh Pirates players when they came to the school to dedicate the new school’s baseball diamond in the 1970s.
8. I used to be a dispatcher for the Cambria County Transit Authority.
9. My favorite toy when I was a kid was barking dog on wheels.
10. My favorite childhood memory of attending WPSBC is when I was on the wrestling team. We wrestled other private schools like Shadyside and Sewickley
Sure enough…the School archives had pictures of a young Ted meeting Terry Bradshaw and Jack Ham!
Bill Dorsey steps carefully down Forbes Avenue in Oakland. In his right hand he holds a broomstick, which doubles as a cane. He sweeps it across the pavement, searching for obstacles. Slung over his left shoulder is a boom box, affixed by many yards of duct tape to milk crates — for sitting — and a cylinder — for receiving donations.
He pauses at the corner at Atwood and Forbes, listens intently to the world around him, then crosses when he senses a clear, safe path. Across the street, he settles in. Passers-by shoot sideways glances at him as Dorsey reaches down and adjusts knobs on the boom box. The music begins. Dorsey begins to sway.
“ Praise God almighty, hallelujah. Love me tender, love me still. Make my dreams fulfilled.”
His deep voice rumbles smoothly through the cold air. It stops pedestrians in their tracks. The lyrics rise above the din of students, buses and helicopters. Across the street, people stare.
“I been singing all my life. When you can’t see, you got to have something to do,” says Dorsey, 65, of the Hill District. “I sing gospel. I don’t do no rap. I don’t do no heavy metal. It’s too graphic for the ladies to hear.”
A man walks over, stuffs bills into the cylinder and says, “Every time I give you money, I win the lottery. God bless you, Bill!”
His first public performance did not go so well. It was more than 50 years ago, at his brother’s birthday party. His Uncle Johnny taught him the words.
“I started to sing ‘Sixteen Candles’ — sixteen candles and my heart will glow — but I was too shy and I stopped. Oh, yeah,” he says. “Uncle Johnny, he’s dead now, he took the shyness out of me. But I stopped because everybody was saying, ‘Oh, we don’t want to hear no more singing.’ My siblings told me to be quiet.”
He quit the song that day, but not singing. It’s what he does, he says, what ushers light into a dark world.
He used to sing Downtown, in front of Kaufmann’s. But when it closed, he chose another stage and, today, Dorsey is a fixture on this Forbes Avenue sidewalk.
“They’ll recognize me when they see this cane,” Dorsey says. “They always tell me, ‘Watch that stick. You better not hit me with that stick.’ And I say, ‘Well, give me your eyes and I’ll see where I’m going, then you won’t have to worry about this stick.’ That’s what I tell them. Then they say, ‘You ain’t blind,’ and I say, ‘Well, let me drive your car. I’m looking for a job anyways — $150 a week, I’ll be your best chauffeur.’ ”
Growing up blind was burdensome, he says, because people can be cruel to those who are different. “They used to burn me with cigarettes,” he says. “I was everyone’s bucket, everyone’s ash tray. I was everyone’s spittoon and everything else like that. They had no business throwing things in my face. They had no business hawking waste out of their mouths, and it went on my shirt and everything.”
He sought comfort in the church, but instead was sexually abused, he says.
“God is in some people’s hearts,” he says flatly, “but not in everybody’s.”
Truth is Bill Dorsey has had a difficult life.
Yet there he is day after day, sitting on the side of Forbes Avenue, sending his mighty voice out into the world, singing God’s praise. “It’s not my fault I was born this way; this is how God planned me,” he says. “I believe he wants me to sing out here all the time. “Here I can sing the way I want.
Life Lessons for Inspiring Students
2014-2015 Annual Report
Thank you for taking the time to read the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children’s 2014 – 2015 Annual Report, “Life Lessons for Inspiring Students.”
Our nearly 130 years of service to our community have been exciting and rewarding, as we remain inspired by the achievements of our students who confront overwhelming obstacles in education. Today, a growing population of students, composed of nearly 200 boys and girls ages 3–21, attend our on-campus program, which is designed for students with visual impairment coupled with other serious physical and cognitive disabilities.
We envision a community where every student who is visually impaired has the opportunity to reach their potential. Therefore, we are proud to offer vital Outreach services and programs to hundreds of babies, toddlers and school-age students with visual impairments within every county in western Pennsylvania.
As a leader in the field, the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children contributes to this vision by developing innovative educational and therapeutic programs to help improve outcomes and promote independence for students with visual impairment, with or without other significant disabilities.
Our students are always first and foremost in everything we do, and we are honored to be able to walk alongside them, and their families, throughout life’s journey. Support from the community is key to our success. Your personal donation will further the goal of providing all students with visual impairment the needed opportunities to develop and learn in this special School.
Todd S. Reeves
Superintendent and Executive Director
You begin learning life lessons at a very young age. Respect one another. Always raise your hand in class. Put your dirty dishes in the sink. Big or small, these life lessons play a meaningful role in shaping your future.
At the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children (WPSBC), these life lessons are individualized for each student and brought to life in extremely unique ways.
Our children may not have the physical ability to see clearly, or raise their hands and speak traditionally in class, but they will learn alternative ways to communicate. Their circumstances may not allow them to put their dishes in the sink, but they will learn other equally important lessons, like how to purposefully raise their forks to their mouths.
The WPSBC students’ life lessons may be different than the ones you acquired while growing up, but they are equally remarkable and extremely significant to the growth and independence of our special boys and girls with visual impairment and challenging disabilities.
“Mind your manners and keep your elbows off of the dinner table.”
“ Reach and grasp your fork tightly before touching it to your black plate.”
Imagine for a moment not being able to properly see your fork, your plate or even the table in front of you due to “visual clutter” that impedes your ability to focus on the task at hand. All of WPSBC’s enrolled students are legally blind, and nearly 80% of them evidence Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), a visual diagnosis caused by brain abnormalities and not eye deficiencies.
Our trained CVI mentors, of various educational and therapeutic disciplines, have completed extensive training and necessary research to implement tailored instructional strategies. One strategy involves removing the “clutter” and presenting food on a black plate to ensure visual contrast, allowing students with CVI to better distinguish what is in front of them. Thanks to these adaptations, what once felt impossible — simply being able to eat independently — has been made possible.
The strides made with our students have been well received by the visually impaired community. Instructors from other renowned schools for blind children visited WPSBC this school year to learn from our instructors and see our approach first hand.
“No matter what type of visual impairment our students confront, our incredibly skilled instructors are committed to finding solutions that aid our boys and girls in reaching new levels of self-sufficiency,” said Rachelle Rectenwald, Education Director.
At WPSBC, becoming independent at the meal table has taken on a new shape. Our students continue to shine and show that with the right guidance and opportunity, extraordinary progress can be made.
“Look both ways before you cross the street.”
“ Find the edge of the curb and listen for the sound of traffic.”
“Brush your teeth before bed.”
“Skype your parents to say ‘goodnight.’”
Reflect back on the routines that are quintessential to childhood. From your morning practices to your school schedule, small daily rituals shape your early life.
For our students who reside on our campus during the week, we go through many of these same routines. However, for our students, they are slightly turned on edge. There are lounges and bedrooms for the students to call home, an individualized dietary program, and caring and qualified staff to support them both day and night.
After the school day ends, kids may enjoy a performance by local musicians, participate in horticulture activities in the greenhouse, work on daily living skills in the Student Apartment, play t-ball in the gymnasium or benefit from creative expression with arts and crafts.
As technology improves, we continue to incorporate it into our daily routines. Considering our residential students live away from home during the week, having programs like Skype available for use is extraordinary. Our students’ parents can now see their child and speak with them before bed even while they’re away from home.
“It is like trusting another family to care for our son. At WPSBC we knew he had a second home,” said Sue Shaffer, parent.
While our residential students might not be able kiss their parents goodnight on a nightly basis, utilizing technology allows our students and their families to stay in close contact.
“Treat others how you want to be treated.”
“Show compassion and celebrate our differences.”
Remember back to when you were a child. You likely learned about diversity and accepting other’s differences. But at WPSBC, we teach diversity hands-on. Our onsite childcare center, “A Child’s VIEW: Vision in Extraordinary Ways,” is available to children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old, and blends sighted students with those who have visual impairments.
This blended learning environment allows our students with visual impairment to learn a multitude of appropriate behaviors and social skills from their sighted-friends. Likewise, it also allows non-disabled children to learn about and appreciate differences at a very young age, long before prejudices are developed.
“Our innovative program is designed to benefit all children, no matter their ability level or sensory deficits,” said Audrey Lazur, Director of A Child’s VIEW.
In the engaging environment of the Early Childhood Center of WPSBC, our boys and girls thrive in a 30,000 square foot facility specially designed to meet the needs of younger children.
With advantages far beyond a typical childcare program, all students involved learn specialized
pre-school lessons, while engaging with other peers. What matters most in A Child’s VIEW classroom is that all students learn and play together.
“Choose a path for your future.”
“Prepare for the next chapter of your life.”
Reminisce on your high school graduation. You most likely had your next steps planned out. Whether that meant attending a large university, entering the work force or perhaps enrolling at a technical school, you selected amongst your options and forged your own path.
Unfortunately, many of our graduates have far fewer options. Due to a general lack of continued services for individuals with disabilities and complex medical needs, our parents are often left searching for an appropriate program to enhance and enrich their adult children’s lives.
To continue serving our graduates and fill this community void, WPSBC founded an adult day program in 2008 called LAVI: Learning Adventures for the Visually Impaired.
“Our philosophy is simple. Even though our students have turned 21 years old and are entering the next chapter of their lives, they deserve the same level of care and engagement they received at our School and to live meaningfully with dignity and respect,”
said Todd Reeves, Superintendent of WPSBC.
In order to meet the various health needs of these adults, LAVI provides the support of a nurse, an instructor and aides, as well as the continual development of skills, to help our alumni transition successfully into adulthood.
“Appreciate each year and always strive for greatness.”
“Take every opportunity you can to lead and shape an organization.”
“Be thankful for all of the blessings you receive.”
“When you are blessed and able, give to those who need it most.”
Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children
INSIGHTS Volume 41 | Winter 2016
The Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children prides itself on being more than just a school. We are a multifaceted organization that strives to provide individuals from infants to adults with visual impairment every opportunity to succeed. This means not only providing excellent individualized educational and therapeutic services to students both on and off campus, but also supporting our participants’ families and being a resource to the broader community.
The momentum was in full force the first half of the 2015/16 school year as you will see in this edition of “Insights.” Our educators have committed their expertise and creativity while implementing our newly developed curriculum, FOCUS: Functional Outcomes-based Curriculum for Unique Students. Incorporating core subjects with specific skill area development, the curriculum aims to promote greater independence and development of children challenged with visual impairment.
Other highlights include the successful accreditation of our onsite blended childcare program, A Child’s VIEW, by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). NAEYC accreditation is the gold standard for early childhood programs across the country and we applaud the volunteer staff and community members that helped us reach this significant recognition.
Further, as part of our Mission to positively impact all students within western Pennsylvania with visual impairment, our Outreach Department continues to expand its specialized and sought-after programs and services into more and more schools and communities within our region.
But perhaps the biggest news is the School’s endeavor to construct a pedestrian bridge that will unite our main instructional buildings. As you will learn in the article enclosed, this effort will allow students with overwhelming challenges to travel safely on our urban campus no matter what the often inclement Pittsburgh weather brings.
We encourage you to follow our progress through social media and on our website:
A project of this scale cannot be successful without help from the community. Please support WPSBC by returning the enclosed envelope with a contribution to aid our efforts. Thank you for your continued interest and commitment to our Mission.
Todd S. Reeves
Board of Trustees:
Harry G. Kilvanick, President
Laura B. Gutnick, Vice President
Todd S. Reeves, Secretary
Susan McAleer, Treasurer
H. Scott Cunningham
Joel M. Helmrich
Joseph A. Massaro III
Albert W. Biglan, M.D.
Gabrielle R. Bonhomme, M.D.
Thomas A. Karet
James K. Martin
Linda M. Northrop
Jennifer A. Shuckrow
Joseph C. Wassermann
Rachel A. Weaver
Ellen C. Walton
Making a Campus Connection
New Bridge to Unite School Buildings and Provide Safe Passageway
After much consideration, the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children (WPSBC) Board of Trustees committed to constructing an enclosed, temperature controlled, pedestrian bridge spanning North Bellefield Avenue, uniting the School’s main building with the Early Childhood Center. Crossing North Bellefield Avenue currently is an insurmountable challenge during inclement weather for our 180 enrolled students who are not only blind, but further challenged by additional physical and cognitive challenges. In fact, nearly 80% of our students require the use of a wheelchair for mobility and in many cases, our boys and girls are considered “medically fragile.” This significant capital project reflects our commitment to maximize accessibility to all areas of our campus and ensure the wellbeing of our students and staff.
A pedestrian bridge will provide a safe crossing for the School’s vulnerable students with visual impairment and multiple disabilities and our nearly 300 staff members. North Bellefield Avenue is a very long block between the Center Avenue and Bayard Street intersections. The street’s average daily traffic has been measured at around 3,500 vehicles traveling at an average speed of 30 mph (85th percentile speed) and School pedestrian crossings, between the two buildings, average 250 crossings per 8 hour day. Our students’ parents and local community groups have acknowledged the need for safe crossing and expressed their overwhelming support for the project.
Currently, our youngest preschool and kindergarten students must cross North Bellefield Avenue to attend various educational and therapeutic activities, classes and events held on the main campus. In addition to this, our residential students, who reside on campus Sunday evening through Friday afternoon, must also cross in the morning and afternoon. Staff must also cross the street numerous times daily for work assignments or to access the parking garage in the Early Childhood Center.
Current procedures to cross a student during favorable weather requires a staff member standing in the street with a stop sign for oncoming traffic while students are assisted across the street by other staff members. This is a safety concern and in addition, exposing our students to the sometimes harsh weather elements is also a medical concern due to their severe disabilities.
A pedestrian bridge across Bellefield Avenue can provide a campus passageway that improves safety and alleviates the medical and health risks associated with exposure to the elements. Extremes of temperature (either hot or cold) and humidity often pose health risks for our students with respiratory problems including tracheostomy tubes. In the cold, respiratory secretions become more thick and sticky, making coughing more difficult. In hot weather, individuals with respiratory problems often experience increased work of breathing to attain adequate oxygen levels. Many students travel to and from school, and within the school environment, with critical and expensive medical technology such as ventilators, pulse oximeters which measure oxygen in the blood, suction machines and tube feeding pumps. Protecting these devices well from the elements, particularly rain and humidity, is necessary but challenging, as the devices themselves are not designed for exposure to moisture.
Further, even our students without respiratory problems confront challenges when having to be exposed to inclement weather. When having to cross in the extreme hot or cold or during rain or snow, students with behavioral concerns have trouble transitioning due to the overwhelming sensory experience often exhibiting detrimental behaviors.
Beyond safety, there are other benefits of the pedestrian bridge. The bridge simplifies student crossings and reduces the effort, precaution and time required to prepare students with overwhelming challenges to cross, especially in the often inclement Pittsburgh weather.
The bridge will also facilitate communication between staff and increase students’ overall participation in educational and therapeutic services and programs held in the main campus buildings such as wheelchair adjustment clinics, aquatic therapy, adapted physical instruction class and performance arts concerts.
While the primary architectural objective is to design a pedestrian bridge providing safe and comfortable passage, there are other important aspects of the bridge design. The bridge project incorporates the principles of Universal Design, which reaches beyond the typical expectations of building codes and accessibility standards. Special attention to lighting, glare, visual contrast and reflective properties have been included in the overall design as well. The variety and depth of needs of persons who are blind or visually impaired can be myriad, but when this type of disability is but one of another or several other disabilities, as is the case at our school, the design challenge is accentuated.
The School is working with architects Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel to meet a construction target date of April 2016 with anticipated completion in the fall of 2016. The overall cost estimate for the project is $2.575M. The School is conducting a special campaign to philanthropic community including individual donors, service clubs, foundations and charitable trusts. Public funding is also being pursued.
Gifts of all sizes will help us make the campus bridge a reality for our students and staff. Contributions can be made by returning the enclosed envelope or by visiting www.wpsbc.org. With your help, we will build a bridge that will create a smoother pathway to learning for children with overwhelming obstacles.
Sharing the Journey
Parent Support Group Hopes to Educate and Empower
Good support is essential for families of children with special needs to thrive. While friends and family may provide much-needed back-up in many areas, perhaps no one can offer emotional understanding, information and advice as well as people who walk in the same shoes.
Millie and Gregory Gray know this from experience. Parents of WPSBC student, Samantha, the Grays have been navigating the often tumultuous waters of raising a special needs child for nineteen years. “Much of what we have learned has been by accident,” said Millie. “There is no handbook.”
Recognizing that others could benefit from the lessons they’ve learned, Millie offered to collaborate with School Case Manager Mary Bowser to form a WPSBC Parent Support Group. Themed “Your Life’s Journey, We Can Do This,” the group meetings offer participants a judgment-free, confidential opportunity to bring their questions, worries and expectations to other parents who can relate.
“I want other parents to know that they can still have a great, positive quality of life,” said Millie who believes some parents look at raising child with disabilities as a death sentence. “I want them to know that they are allowed to feel bad, but with work and desire it can really get better.”
Helping to spread awareness and information about raising a child with challenges is nothing new to Millie, a former library director. Noticing a lack of resources at her own library, she collaborated with colleagues to establish the “Special Awareness Materials” (SAM), an effort to promote the availability of special needs resources throughout the state in small, community libraries.
“Millie is the type of parent that makes it her mission to find out what’s out there for her daughter and if it’s not there, she’ll create it,” said Bowser.
Started last school year, the Parent Support Group plans to meet 2-3 times a year. Discussions have revolved around accessible community places, tips for advocating for adult funding and chiropractic care for caregivers and individuals with special needs. Meeting times are flexible and WPSBC parents are invited to provide input on which times might work best.
And although her daughter Samantha is set to graduate from WPSBC in two years, Millie is adamant that she will continue to run the Parent Support Group even after her daughter leaves our School. “Everyone has their own story, but I hope to help so many others by sharing ours,” she said.
Lending Equipment Program
Supporting Students and Families at Home
Supporting our students’ family and home life is a high priority for the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children (WPSBC). Unfortunately, the assistive devices that caregivers and parents need to make their job easier are often times very expensive or not readily available. These
are essential items that enable the parents to properly and safely care for and enhance the quality of their child’s life. The WPSBC equipment lending program helps fill the void.
Started in 2010 by the School’s Lead Occupational Therapist Mark Kislan and Lead Physical Therapist Amanda Gallagher, the program is not exclusive to WPSBC students, but rather, is open to any family in our region who has a child with special needs. The program makes positioning equipment such as standers, gait trainers, bath lifts and activity chairs readily available to western Pennsylvanian families who would otherwise be unable to obtain the equipment for their child with disabilities.
The unfortunate truth is that most medical supplies and special needs equipment are exorbitantly expensive. “In many cases, it is nice for families to trial a piece of equipment before purchasing it or submitting to insurance for their approval,” said Gallagher.
For mother Terri Santistevan, the impact of the program is immeasurable. After taking in a foster child with significant medical challenges, Santistevan was dismayed to find out that they could not borrow a vital Tumble Form positioning chair from their local hospital. “I had no other seating for this child, no one could help me,” she recalls.
Thankfully, Santistevan learned of WPSBC’s Equipment Lending Program through her existing relationship with the School. “It was a lifesaver, I can’t even begin to tell you how having that chair helped that little boy.”
The Lending Equipment Program reflects the School’s commitment to supporting our families as well as being a resource to the community. With more than 125 pieces of equipment loaned out since its inception, the program has exceeded initial expectations. “Extending our resources to help the community is one of our main goals; we are proud of the difference we are making in these children’s and families’ lives,” said Kislan.
The equipment in the program comes from donated devices and those that are no longer used by our students. Families interested in participating in the program can call 412-621-0100 or find a complete listing of the items available and to download the necessary agreement form, visit our website: www.wpsbc.org.
Insights is published twice a year by the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. The School is a non-profit, private chartered school approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. For information about the School, to arrange a tour or for a speaker, call 412-621-0100.
10 things You Probably Don’t Know About Braille
Perkins School for the Blind
January is National Braille Literacy Month, so it’s the perfect time to explore the world’s most popular tactile reading and writing system.
Braille is named after its creator, Louis Braille, and uses combinations of raised dots to spell out letters and punctuation. Around the world, people who are blind read braille with their fingertips and can write it using devices like the Perkins Brailler. But that’s not the whole story about braille. For example…
- Braille started out as a military code called “night writing.” It was developed in 1819 by the French army so soldiers could communicate at night without speaking or using candles. Fifteen-year-old French schoolboy Louis Braille learned about the code, and eventually developed the more usable, streamlined version of the braille alphabet we know today.
- There’s an asteroid named Braille. In 1999, NASA’s Deep Space 1 probe flew past an asteroid while on its way to photograph the Borrelly comet. NASA named the asteroid “9969 Braille” in honor of Louis Braille.
- Braille takes up more space than the traditional alphabet, so braille books are much larger than their print counterparts. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is 10 volumes in braille, the “New American Bible’’ is 45 volumes and “Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary” is a shelf-hogging 72 volumes.
- Braille is not a language. It’s a tactile alphabet that can be used to write almost any language. There are braille versions of Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew and many other languages.
- Most people who are blind don’t know braille. In 2009, National Federation of the Blind cited statistics indicating that only 10 percent of Americans with blindness can read braille. That number has been falling as more people with visual impairments use audio books, voice-recognition software and other technology to read and write. However, the same study found that braille-literate people are more likely to attain higher levels of education and be employed.
- There’s a braille “Olympics.” It’s the annual Braille Challenge for students who are blind, sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Braille Institute. More than 1,400 students from the U.S. and Canada test their braille skills in categories like reading comprehension, proofreading and spelling. Winners in each age group walk away with monetary prizes – and braille bragging rights for a year.
- Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn math. There’s a special version of braille just for mathematics called the Nemeth Code. It was invented by Dr. Abraham Nemeth and can be used to transcribe math, algebra and calculus.
- Braille is the surprise plot twist in the 2010 movie “The Book of Eli.” In the movie, Denzel Washington plays a loner who wanders through a violent post-apocalyptic wasteland with the last known copy of the Bible. At the end, you find out that the Bible is in braille and Washington’s character is blind.
- There are two versions of braille – contracted and uncontracted. In uncontracted braille, every word is spelled out. Contracted braille is a “shorthand” version where common words are abbreviated, much like “don’t” is a shorter version of “do” and “not.” Most kids start with uncontracted braille and then learn the contracted version.
- There’s a good reason why braille is on the keypad buttons of drive-through ATMs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that all ATMs must be accessible to people with visual impairments, and drive-through ATMs aren’t exempt. That’s so passengers who are blind, travelling in the back seat of cars or taxis, can reach the ATM and independently make a transaction without assistance
The Pittsburgh darters–Audio Darts of Pittsburgh–were at it again last October when they hosted the tournament here in our city. About 30 registered representing at least 5 states, and we went to battle over 3 days.
The Alumni was represented by Dave and Diane Popoleo, (her first), Al Pietrolungo, Joe Wassermann, Bonnie Newland, Jim Musto, Mike Zaken, and Cindy and John Perseo. Our gang came away with about $800 in prize money.
Most or all of that crew will be heading for Greensboro, North Carolina this coming October for some more good competition and renewal of friendships from these same states.
from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Keith Stebler stands at the corner of Sixth Street and Liberty Avenue, Downtown, searching for clues.
“Usually sound reflections off buildings help, but this intersection — it’s like a wide-open space,” says Stebler, 65, of Bellevue. “And there’s no audible light, so it’s tough. You have to listen to traffic, listen to voices coming towards you. Your concentration must be high because you don’t know what might come up.”
Stebler lost his sight at age 6. On this day, he is trying to walk two blocks to Market Square. As cars and pedestrians buzz around him, he uses his cane to detect a series of truncated domes — bumps on the sidewalk that signify the beginning of a crosswalk — then waits.
When he feels it is safe to cross (traffic has stopped and voices approach from the other side of the street), he steps forward. The flow of pedestrians parts as his cane sweeps the pavement ahead. Halfway across, however, he becomes disoriented and veers to the left.
“I really swerved there,” he says moments later after successfully crossing the street. “It’s not always perfect.”
Certainly not in Pittsburgh.
Even for those with perfect vision, navigating the city can be a challenge. There are hills and valleys, rivers and bridges, a Downtown street design known more for irregular angles than a traditional grid.
But cities can take steps to make navigation for the blind and visually impaired easier, advocates and people with vision disabilities says. And they are encouraged by Mayor Bill Peduto’s pledge to make the city more inclusive, to provide better access to different groups Downtown and in other neighborhoods. From cyclists to the LGBT community to Syrian refugees, he has repeated that Pittsburgh welcomes all.
But how does the city rank in accommodating the 23,672 blind or visually-impaired people living in Allegheny County (according to the U.S. Census)?
The answer, according to the blind community, is so-so, but trending upward.
“It’s been a focus of this current mayor,” says Erika Arbogast, president of the Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh. “They’re trying. But it takes time.”
Arbogast and others says steps to help the blind include:
• Installing audible traffic signals — or accessible pedestrian signals — to help the blind cross streets safely.
• Covering tree pits with covers that do not create tripping hazards.
• Installing bumps, also known as detectable warnings or truncated domes, in front of crosswalks.
• Enforcing regulations restricting sidewalk clutter.
• Making public transportation more accessible.
Perhaps the single most important step, Arbogast and Stebler says, is installing accessible pedestrian signals.
In 2010, Arbogast wore a blindfold for a week to better understand clients’ needs. She worked, commuted and even cooked for her family without sight, no exceptions.
“Crossing the street can be absolutely terrifying,” she says. “The only time I felt 110 percent safe was when I got off the bus on Penn and I heard the audible signal. I knew exactly where I was. For me, it was, ‘Wow. This is important.’ ”
The city has 607 signalized intersections, of which 114 are audible, says Amanda Purcell, a traffic engineer with the Department of Public Works.
More are needed.
Miguel Reyes, a certified orientation and mobility specialist who trains blind people to get around cities, says the city can do more.
“We’re kind of average. You can definitely see that efforts have been made, but — average,” he says. “We’re where I would expect most cities to be.”
There are no national rankings for how accessible cities are for the blind, but Reyes and others says the creation of the Envision Downtown initiative in Pittsburgh is a good sign. Peduto intends to allocate as much as $32 million over the next five years to the group, which is tasked with making the city more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
“We are trying to understand what the barriers are and make sure Downtown is a place everyone can get to and get around,” Executive Director Sean Luther says. “We have a long way to go, but I definitely think there’s a will.”
Port Authority also plays a crucial role.
Spokesman Adam Brandolph says the agency has a blind-friendly website; provides audio announcements at each stop on buses and Ts; has safety devices at T stations to alert people with vision disabilities where the platform ends; and offers reduced fares for disabled people. In addition, Port Authority offers Braille and large-print schedules, Bus Identifier Kits and Braille vehicle number IDs on metal plates near vehicle entrances.
Reyes would like Port Authority to make its bus stops more identifiable to the blind, because “that pole with a bus-stop sign on it feels like any other pole,” he says. “There’s sometimes no real indication that you’re at a bus stop.”
Even with recent improvements, sometimes the blind just need a helping hand.
Pittsburghers are more than willing to help out. Sometimes too willing.
“One person picked me up,” Arbogast says of her week blindfolded. “They thought I was getting too close to the curb.”
“That kind of stuff happens all the time,” Reyes says.
“It really does,” Arbogast said. “People want to be helpful, and they think they are, but …”
“Nobody likes to be grabbed by a stranger,” Reyes says. “If you see a blind person, don’t grab them. Simply ask if they’d like help.”
Joe Wassermann, who sits on the City County Task Force on Disabilities, says he’s received help from clearly drunk pedestrians.
“That gives you something to think about,” Wassermann says. “Generally, I’d say Pittsburghers are enormously helpful. When I or my wife, who is also blind, are out traveling, 90 percent of time we are offered some kind of assistance.”
As the city strives to be more inclusive, conflicts have arisen.
The increase in bike lanes, for instance, has restricted some areas where Access cars can drop off or pick up blind passengers, blind advocates says. And with more bike lanes comes increased risks for collisions.
“I’ve almost been hit by bicycles a few times,” Wassermann says. “You cannot hear them coming. When they see pedestrians on the street, they really are supposed to yield, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.”
Sidewalk clutter is also an issue, including outdoor restaurant seating.
“That is a major indicator of a city’s economic vitality, but I absolutely think there should be a balance,” Luther says. “Customers need to be cognizant of what they’re doing with their chairs, and restaurant owners need to be sure the barriers are where they’re supposed to be.”
Finally, the blind community says the city must enforce existing traffic and parking laws.
While walking from Market Square to a bus stop near PPG Place, Stebler tries to cross Fourth Avenue. But a large delivery truck is parked illegally in the crosswalk.
Stebler’s cane sweeps the ground under the truck, but cannot detect its side. He walks straight into it.
“There’s no way I can detect that,” he says. “That’s the way it is sometimes. You just have to do the best you can.”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
“Hello, Party Line.” Those words were integral to Pittsburgh culture from 1951 until 1971 and an important part of Wendy King’s life.
She and her husband, Ed King, co-hosted KDKA-AM radio’s call-in talk show, “Party Line.” “It was the first of its kind in the country, and it could be said they invented the marriage of the telephone and the radio,” said longtime friend Bob Wolke of Mount Washington.
The show aired from 10 p.m. until midnight and, thanks to KDKA’s strong signal, could be heard across the country. The show ended in November 1971 when Mr. King died at age 50.
Mrs. King died in her sleep Sunday at St. Clair Hospital. She was 92.
A farm girl from Ada, Ohio, she was born Betty Focht and went on to become a pioneer for women in radio after graduating from Ohio Northern University in 1945. She received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the university in 1995.
“Party Line” was about everything, but nothing political. Callers could not be heard, so she and Ed would paraphrase their questions and others would call in with answers.
During the “Party Pretzel Quiz,” they would ask a question of the callers and throughout the evening give clues until someone got the correct answer.
“People would also write in and they would read the questions on the air and the conversation would start from there,” recalled Mrs. King’s niece, Roxane Stewart of North Versailles. Her father, John Stewart, was the newscaster on the program. The show was basically a party over the airwaves with trivia and a wide range of topics discussed by the two natural conversationalists.
“Aside from knowing that she was a true pioneer in radio broadcasting, as a little girl, I remember Aunt Wendy as the epitome of grace, charm and poise,” said another niece, Sharon Blake of Mount Washington. “Always well-dressed, she was as kind and gracious to friends, family and strangers as she sounded on the air to her thousands of ‘Party Line’ fans,” she added.
A resident of Green Tree, Mrs. King lived independently in the same home she and her husband bought in 1949 until a few days ago, when she was admitted to the hospital. She had been encouraged over the years to move to a more appropriate place for someone her age, but she would have none of it.
“She was not an old person. She remained the same sweet person her on-air voice projected for all those years,” Mr. Wolke said.
“Her mind never aged,” said her friend of 57 years, Ellen Lynch, who called Mrs. King her mentor and sister.
Mrs. King and her husband were known for their annual Christmas parties. Mrs. King would present each guest with an ornament, which they would then put on the tree.
“The tree trim parties were legendary,” recalled Mr. Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, who met Mr. and Mrs. King 50 years ago through friends in Shadyside.
When the radio show went off the air, Mrs. King went to work as a tour guide with AAA. “She was wonderful to travel with because she would do so much research,” Mrs. Lynch said.
What many remember about the radio personality is her partnership with her husband. “They were true partners in life and at work,” Mr. Wolke said.
Mr. King gave her the name Wendy because she reminded him of Peter Pan’s Wendy. She never remarried.
“He was a hard act to follow,” Ms. Stewart said.
As was she. Mrs. King was honored at the 2010 Talkers Conference in New York, where she said, “Old talkers never die, they just croak away.”
Mrs. King donated all the audiotapes and radio scripts to Duquesne University in 1982.
Patricia Sheridan: PSheridan@post-gazette.com
Obituary: Nancy L. Oyler / Counselor of the blind loved life, family and nature | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Whether it was for patients who recently lost their sight hoping to rebuild their lives, a friend in need of a shoulder to cry on or a child who had to attend band practice, Nancy Oyler was always there to help.
Mrs. Oyler, who worked as an intake specialist and counselor at the Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind (now Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh), died of a heart attack Sunday at Conneaut Lake, Crawford County. She was 85.
The Guild and the service she provided to the blind largely defined her professional career but were just one aspect of her strong desire to help others and to effect change.
Born in Grove City, Mrs. Oyler earned an associate degree at Grove City College and went on to earn a master of education degree in rehabilitation counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. During her time at Pitt and following her graduation, she worked at the the Guild for the Blind from 1963 to 1968, serving as an intake specialist and doing psychosocial work. She introduced new patients to the facility and to counselors, and helped them familiarize themselves with therapies.
She married John F. Oyler of Mt. Lebanon in 1963 and left the Guild for the Blind when their first child was born in 1968. But her desire to help others, particularly those who had lost their sight, never left. When their youngest child was preparing to leave for college in 1986, Mrs. Oyler resumed her job at the Guild, where she worked for the next 19 years.
“That was a very important part of her life. She had a passion for helping people and doing good things,” said her husband. “The fact that they could bring in clients who had lost their sight in an accident, people for whom life had become hopeless and give them training to return to normal life, she was very passionate about that. I think it was because she had a big heart.”
Mrs. Oyler also worked with the state to get funding for patients, Mr. Oyler said.
Jack Lydic of Bethel Park, a former colleague of Mrs. Oyler’s at the Guild, said she performed the important role of helping patients make psychological adjustments to being blind.
“Personally adjusting to sudden blindness is extremely difficult. Nancy had a way of making our clients believe that it was possible, with the proper training, to lead an independent life after blindness,” Mr. Lydic said. “She wanted to make a difference. She did that and more.”
Other former colleagues remembered her warmth, not only to patients but also to co-workers. Nancy Schepis of Dormont said that when she became the volunteer coordinator and was put in a room at the back of the hall where no one would find her, Mrs. Oyler came to her and became her friend.
“As my husband was dying of cancer, who visited me every Monday and shared tears with me? Nancy.”
Mrs. Oyler’s daughter Elizabeth Oyler of Champaign, Ill., said her mother made birthday cakes every year, attended and helped out at every sporting event and cooked special meals every Valentine’s Day for a special family celebration.
“The most important thing for her was her three kids. They have all become successful professionally and are great family people,” Mr. Oyler said.
Mrs. Oyler was a regular contributor to more than 40 nonprofit organizations dedicated to the welfare of people, animals and the environment. Her family members remembered her particular love for nature and animals. Mr. Oyler said she always became upset when she heard that people were cutting down trees. Her daughter Sara Oyler-McCance of Fort Collins, Colo., said the family used to go on nature walks and said her mother’s love of nature inspired her to enter her current profession as a biologist.
Mrs. Oyler also loved reading, painting, poetry and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“One of the greatest things in life is to do things you care about. She cared about a lot of the right things and tried to do something of impact for the things she cared about, whether for her family or the environment,” said her son, John Oyler of Beijing.
In addition to her husband and children, Mrs. Oyler is survived by five grandchildren
Necrology and other Alumni news and notes
Ted Crum class of 1979 lost his wife Monica in July 2015. Note that Monica spent countless hours working on putting our bulletin together.
Tyrone Belini a former student lost his Father in July of 2015.
Russel Folckemer class of 1968 died in August 2015.
Pauline Haney class of 1972 died September 2015.
Mary Lou Longmore wife of the late former student Bob Longmore died in 2015.
Dick Miller former student lost his wife in 2015.
Janice Miller class of 1976 lost her mother in December of 2015.
Jerry Berrier class of 1970 lost his wife in 2016.
Anna Murry Hostetler former student passed away in March of 2016. She was the wife of Jean Hostetler class of 1956. She was the oldest active member of our WPSBC Alumni Association.
Karen , Connie Woods class of 1966 lost her husband in 2016.
Congratulations to Jim Nornhold class of 1958 who, retired after 57 years working as a masseur at the Jewish community Center.
An added note of information and or trivia regarding WPSBC history.
The school song was written by Georgie King who later became Georgie Stevens through marriage and she was from the class of 1925.