The Western Pennsylvania disability lost a leading disability rights advocate when Judy Barricella passed away on November 14, 2022. (Read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary here or download a PDF of the PPG obituary here.)
Judy was a powerhouse – in her personal life as a mother, grandmother, sister and friend, and in her long career in disability services.
She was born in Pittsburgh to Frank P. and Hilda Rodgers Barricella on June 30, 1947. She contracted polio at the age of four. She attended Locust Street School in Etna and Mount Alvernia High School.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing science from the University of Pittsburgh in 1973, and a master’s degree in speech therapy from the University of South Florida in 1976. She continued her education at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences as a NIDRR Fellow and then a UCLID Fellow.
Early in her career, she started a speech therapy program at the Association for Retarded Citizens (now Achieva), and went on to become the founding director of the Three Rivers Center for Independent Living in 1980. She served as executive director for ten years.
Next, she established a national consulting company to advise nonprofit and for-profit companies on disability issues and to give her the flexibility to raise her two sons, Anthony and Jesse.
Later, as an employee of Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) she created a program to better meet the needs of individuals with disabilities and became the first director of the Disability Connection, later known as the Aging and Disability Resource Center (Allegheny Link) a one-stop shop for seeking services and accessing benefits. During her last two years before retirement in 2015, Judy served as the first ADA Coordinator for Allegheny County.
Judy’s disability rights advocacy was legendary, visible and long-lasting. In 2002, as the head of Disability Agenda 2000, a group charged with improving accessibility in the region, she persuaded the Three Rivers Arts Festival to implement a host of changes, including better parking, wider pathways through the Artists Market, more accessible restrooms, and a commitment to inclusivity.
In 2008, Judy led the “Voices of Our Region” oral history project to document and share the stories of 57 people with disabilities in southwestern Pennsylvania. The project — which captured the experiences of people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and ages — was a collaboration with acclaimed film producer and director Tony Buba.
Judy was on the White House lawn on July 26, 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. For years afterward, she was often at the forefront of annual celebrations of the landmark law, bringing the local disability community together with the wider community to reflect upon successes but, more importantly, to call attention to the work that still needs to be done to ensure equality and inclusion.
Judy devoted her life to that work. She served on numerous boards and committees locally, statewide and nationally, including FISA Foundation, United Way 21 and Able, and Center for Creative Play.
She received many honors and awards, including the Ruth and George Brenyo Achievement Award from Three Rivers Center for Independent Living (2010). When she retired from the Allegheny County Department of Human Services in 2015, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald honored her with proclamation.
In a 2015 speech at CLASS Community about the impact of the ADA at its 25th anniversary, Judy’s message to the audience eloquently captured the moment:
The ADA gave a voice to people with disabilities. We don’t have to be afraid to ask for an accommodation or timid about taking a stand. We can ask and be bold.
The disability community and our non-disabled allies alike must continue to work to honor the legacy of generations before us by continuing to roll forward the wheels of progress and change. We have to keep fighting. The work is not over.
Judy was a founding member and steering committee member of the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium. The Consortium expresses its sincere sympathy to Judy’s family. A memorial service is planned for Spring 2023.