Chris Ann Hays
The Western Pennsylvania Disability History & Action Consortium launches Voices of Change Video Series
Series to highlight trailblazing advocates who championed change and the work yet to be done
Pittsburgh, Pa. (Oct. 1, 2020) – The Western Pennsylvania Disability History & Action Consortium (WPDHAC) is pleased to announce the launch of its Voices of Change video series. The first video in the series, featuring transportation changemaker Paul Dick, will premiere on Thursday, Oct. 8 in conjunction with a Heinz History Center virtual event commemorating 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, From Exclusion to Autonomy: The History and Future of Accessible Transportation in Western Pennsylvania.
Voices of Change illuminates the significant contributions of early disability advocates who fought for and inspired systemic change to ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities. Additionally, the stories aim to educate and empower today’s advocates to continue to advance the work being done. There are still opportunities to make vast improvements in programs and services that support people with disabilities. Community inclusion is often threatened by structural, societal and policy change, including lack of funding.
“Let’s leave history where it is,” said Mary Hartley, Project Director. “The rights and improvements for access to the community by and for people with disabilities have been hard-won over many years. It’s time to move forward on advances that allow more autonomy and freedom.”
Multi-media coordinator for WPDHAC, Tina Calabro, commented “Western Pennsylvanians have been those leaders, advocating for years to win this progress. Changes in policy are often proposed or made without the important context of history—so we must ensure that these stories are shared.”
Sadly, there are still places where people with disabilities are being housed in institutions and nursing homes, without all of the benefits of membership in the community.
“Every human being deserves the right to strive for a personally meaningful life,” said Calabro. “We all want to be included and have opportunities to thrive. People with disabilities are no different. Western Pennsylvania advocates fight every day to break down barriers, effect change, and create a society that offers the critical supports that enable people to live the lives they deserve.”
The first video in the Voices of Change series features Paul Dick, who was diagnosed with polio at age 14, nearly a decade before Dr. Jonas Salk’s vaccine became available. Transportation for people with disabilities did not exist until Dick helped create Allegheny County’s ACCESS Transportation System, one of the largest coordinated systems that stands as a nationwide model. As a teen, Dick recognized transportation was a significant barrier for people with disabilities. His 55-year advocacy career focused on ensuring sustainable, accessible public transportation that operated as a collaboration between local, state and federal government and the citizens who use it.
The second video in the series, which will launch in the next month, features the story of Joe Benedum Trees. Trees was diagnosed with an intellectual disability during an era with few educational or therapeutic services. Trees was fortunate to be cared for at his Treesdale Manor home. His caregivers share the story of his remarkable life and their unforgettable connection to him. The Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust, established by Joe’s mother, continues to support the work of many disability organizations, including
Other stories in the Voices of Change series include several about Polk Center in Venango County, the work of advocacy leaders associated with the Arcs of Crawford and Mercer counties, the founding of the L’Arche community in Erie, and the development of inclusive education in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“Many people are not fully aware of the range of challenges people with disabilities face, and the incredibly tenacious efforts they, and those who care about them, have undertaken to demand equal rights under the law,” said Heather Glasby, the WPDHAC’s Preservation and Media Scholar and a person who lives with disability.
“It’s a complex and emotionally-charged topic, and it speaks volumes about our society. Disability rights are human rights, but that is not often addressed in the larger conversation. Until we successfully engage the wider public in a much deeper conversation, change will not occur. This video series and the work of the Consortium are valuable tools to educate the public about the foundational change brought about by early advocates, the barriers that still exist, and the crucial work to be done to protect the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.”
The videos will be viewable on the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium at www.wpdhac.org/.
About Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium – The mission of the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium is to preserve and honor the historic struggle of people with disabilities to attain human and civil rights and to share the lived experiences of today, in order to promote community access, participation and equal opportunity. WPDHAC educates the public about disability history in order to improve community access, participation and equal opportunity, and to ensure disability rights through existing and new policies and laws. WPDHSC joins stakeholders across Pennsylvania to advocate on policies that ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities.