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Secretary Walker Visits L&I Summer Academy Preparing Students Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired for College and Employment

06/27/2024

Contact: Trevor Monk, dlipress@pa.gov

State College, PA – Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Nancy A. Walker today visited with 20 high school students from across Pennsylvania who are learning independent-living skills at Penn State that will prepare them for employment after high school. Since 2009, L&I's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) has offered the Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired and has served about 325 students in that time.

OVR offers the 10-day academy each summer – as well as a separate academy for students who are deaf or hard of hearing – to help students build the skills they'll need to succeed in post-secondary education and competitive integrated employment. 

The Pennsylvania State University has hosted the academy at its University Park campus since 2014. There is no cost to students or their families for participation in the academy. The program is funded through federal pre-employment transition funds.

“Every young person must learn a set of independent-living skills to succeed in their transition from childhood to adulthood – but that list of needed skills is a little longer for youth with disabilities. L&I's summer academies help students and their families plan and adjust to a new set of circumstances with the best chance of success. These programs are based on the lived experiences of people who have successfully made the transition from high school to college, and then to employment and are a great example of government being a force for good for Pennsylvania families," Secretary Walker said.

The academy is an immersive experience, offering students the chance to live in a college dorm with a roommate, eat their meals at a dining hall, and participate in team-building activities.  Students have the chance to take a variety of classes, including mobility skills with the use of a white cane, how to request accommodations, study skills, assistive technology, disability services, social and emotional skills, adaptive sports, career planning, and more. Each student and their family receive a report outlining the student's strengths and areas that could be focused on to make the successful transition to college.


The summer academies also help young professionals who will be supporting individuals with disabilities in their future careers by hiring college students with human services-related majors to serve as Resident Assistants (RAs). The RAs conduct activities and provide guidance to the participants to ensure that each student has a great experience. In the past, OVR has seen students and RAs successfully graduate from college and come to work for the Department.

Pennsylvania's support systems for individuals with disabilities are a top priority of the Shapiro Administration. Governor Josh Shapiro's proposed 2024-25 budget prioritizes services for Pennsylvanians with disabilities that support independence without barriers by investing an additional $787,000 in vocational rehabilitation. More than 50,000 individuals with disabilities receive services through the vocational rehabilitation program and an additional 17,000 students with disabilities utilize OVR's pre-employment transition services program annually. Pre-employment transition services become available to Pennsylvania students with disabilities starting at age 14. 

OVR's Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired is open to Pennsylvania high school students enrolled in vocational rehabilitation services through the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services. In addition to working with families directly, OVR partners with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) to distribute information about the academies to all vision departments within Pennsylvania's Intermediate Units.

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