In June, the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium—together with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania—presented “From Wrongs to Rights: A Living History of an Unfinished Civil Rights Movement” at the University Center for Teaching and Learning at Pitt. Faculty from a wide range of disciplines attended.
Speakers provided an overview of the struggle for disability rights in the United States, with a focus on the segregation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in institutions.
The presentation highlighted the United Way’s From Wrongs to Rights digital archive as a valuable resource for faculty. The archive includes articles, letters, photography, and video that tell the story of the Arc of Allegheny County (now ACHIEVA) leading visits to institutions across Pennsylvania in the early 1970s to report on conditions.
These advocates discovered abuses, such as the use of cages to contain residents at Polk State School and Hospital (located about 75 miles north of Pittsburgh in Venango County). The actions of these advocates and the accompanying media coverage influenced Pennsylvania officials and the public to support the closing of institutions and the creation of a system of services and support that would enable people with disabilities to live in their home communities. This Western Pennsylvania advocacy and similar efforts across the nation help lay the groundwork for the landmark laws and policies that guarantee the civil rights of people with disabilities today.
The Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium welcomes invitations to speak to educators about incorporating disability rights history into courses and curriculum. For information, contact John L. Tague, project director, at [email protected].