Beginning in the 1970s, Western Pennsylvania disability rights advocates helped build the foundation for the inclusion of children and adults with a range of disabilities in their communities, including access to public school education.
The latest interviews in the Consortium’s Voices of Change series highlight the work of four such advocates.
Randy Gorske and M.J. Bartelmay
In one interview, Randy Gorske of Crawford County and M.J. Bartelmay (1957-2020) of Mercer County discuss their commitment to opening doors for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As leaders of local chapters of the Arc of Pennsylvania, they helped build community services in their areas while applying their skills and experiences to statewide and national efforts. In a separate interview, Cecelia (Ceil) Belasco and Elisabeth (Liz) Healey reflect on their dedication to implementing “inclusive” education within the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Randy Gorske was executive director of The Arc of Crawford County in northeastern Pennsylvania for 26 years beginning in 1988. He helped many residents of Polk State Center make the move to community living and served on the Human Rights Committee at Polk for several years.
“Throughout my career, I kept realizing that there’s so many obstacles [for] people with disabilities, that society says, ‘You can’t do it.’ People, even within the field, say, ‘You can’t do it.’ All we really need to do is sort of open the door and give them a chance.”
– Randy Gorske, Executive Director 1988-2014, The Arc of Crawford County
M.J. Bartelmay became active with The Arc of Mercer County in 1992 when his son, also named M.J., began receiving early intervention services. His advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities included leadership at the local, state and national level. Bartelmay passed away in 2020 at the age of 63.
In their joint interview, the longtime colleagues talk about their shared commitment to ensuring respect, self-determination and quality of life for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and the unique paths that led to their life work.
“At the end of the day, I think we all know that we were created to live in community. We weren’t created to live in isolation.”
– MJ Bartelmay (1957-2020), Former officer of The Arc of Mercer County, The Arc of Pennsylvania, and The Arc of the U.S.
Ceil Belasco and Liz Healey
From the 1990s through 2010s, Ceil Belasco and Liz Healey were at the forefront of the movement for inclusive education for students with disabilities in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. They worked to ensure that students with disabilities had the opportunity to be educated alongside their peers in regular classrooms, and that teachers received the support they needed to engage diverse learners.
Belasco is a retired educator and inclusion facilitator for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, former director of training for the PEAL (Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership) Center, and parent of a son with disabilities.
Healey is a former Pittsburgh school board member, parent of a daughter with disabilities, and founder of the PEAL (Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership) Center, a federally-funded parent education and information center that serves all of Pennsylvania.
In their respective roles in the Pittsburgh school district, Belasco and Healey networked, organized, and advocated to bring about a district-wide, transformational commitment to inclusive education practice, advance the rights of students with disabilities, and open minds about the benefits of inclusive education for all students. They worked closely with district officials to develop the vision and best practices for inclusive education, and to earn a reputation as one of the school districts in the nation most engaged in inclusive education.
“I like to think that we were part of that systems change that moved the school district from sort of a segregation-as-bedrock principle, to become more open, more well-trained, more well-informed, and interested in supporting students and staff as well.”
– Ceil Belasco, Retired Educator, Pittsburgh Public Schools