COVID-19 Updates, ADA, and Local Newsmakers!
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Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium

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Our website offers a collection of resources about disability rights history. 

Looking back, looking forward during COVID-19 pandemic

April 2020 

Did you see last month's newsletter with Western Pennsylvania disability resources in the midst of COVID-19? If not, you can check it out here. A new resource available for Pennsylvanians is the Autism and Intellectual Disabilities in Pennsylvania (AID in PA) website, where informative videos (captioned) are posted weekly.

The COVID-19 pandemic brings the history of the polio epidemic to mind. Look for an exploration of Western Pennsylvania's history with polio, coming next month. In the meantime, read what Jonas Salk's son has to say about COVID-19 research currently underway at the University of Pittsburgh. (Jonas Salk was the creator of the polio vaccine. This year marks 65 years since the announcement of Salk's discovery.)

ADA sponsor, former Congressman speaks with Consortium

Former Congressman Tony Coehlo spoke at the Disability and Mental Health Summit on March 3rd. Coehlo sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, introducing it in the House of Representatives in May of 1989.
Coehlo’s interest in disability advocacy stems from personal experience. He was in a car accident as a teenager; much later, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. The diagnosis barred him from pursuing Catholic priesthood. He later spent a brief period of time working for comedian Bob Hope, who encouraged him to enter politics.
Coehlo recently spoke with the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium in advance of the Disability and Mental Health Summit. He shared the story of his interest in disability rights and shared his perspective on the ongoing disability rights movement.
“Today, technology is your best friend,” Coehlo said. In his experience, accessibility is increasingly built into technology as a default—to the benefit of people with disabilities. Transportation, he said, is one example. Apps and services like Uber make it possible for people who cannot drive to get around without relying on public transportation. The Internet itself brings together people of all abilities.
Despite decades of progress, Coehlo acknowledged that problems remain. He feels that employment is one of the key issues people with disabilities face. Offering more jobs for people with disabilities is important, Coehlo said, as is broadening ideas of what success looks like and the paths people take to get there. His own life path and success, he noted, was in part dictated by people telling him what he could not do.
Coehlo said that his personal philosophy regarding employment is, “Give us the right to fail. If you do, we can succeed!” The process of trial and error is vital to any successful endeavor; for people with disabilities, it’s a part of everyday life when navigating a world designed for the abled. The freedom to do things differently and to seek out alternative avenues to success in the workplace is vital.
As with any other social justice movement, the efforts to attain and maintain rights for people with disabilities are ongoing. Coehlo has faith in the disability community and believes that grassroots action is both critical and stronger than ever. The engagement of the disability community has shaped us into a large group with ever-growing influence on political issues.
“When we come together, we prevail,” Coehlo said.

University of Pittsburgh makes progress toward digital accessibility

An Electronic Information Policy, aimed at making the University of Pittsburgh’s public-facing and educational electronic materials accessible, was first opened for review in August 2019. Digital Accessibility Coordinator Angela Bedford-Jack emphasized the collaborative nature of the work involved in bringing such a policy to fruition and shared tips from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
However, in November 2019 members of the Faculty Assembly criticized the policy. Concerns centered on the cost of implementation and the feasibility of requiring schools and academic departments to take on that responsibility. Ultimately, the policy draft was sent back to the Electronic Information Technology Committee for revision.
In early January 2020, early adopters of digital accessibility tools and strategies shared their experiences; some cited lack of knowledge as a greater obstacle to digital accessibility than cost alone.
A revised policy was approved in February 2020. According to Bedford-Jack’s comments to the University Times, public-facing online material will ideally be made compliant within two years, while electronic course materials will need to be compliant within four years.

Local author publishes memoir


Dr. Rachel Kallem Whitman, an adjunct instructor at Duquesne University, explores life with bipolar disorder in a new memoir, published in February. According to the official press release from One Idea Press:

“Instability in Six Colors is Rachel Kallem Whitman's debut publication: a collection of personal essays, poems, and pastiche pieces that reflect upon her lived experience with bipolar disorder. Through the use of six different colors, Whitman chronicles the cyclic nature of bipolar disorder and how it affects her personal relationships as well as her relationship with her body. Instability in Six Colors is both a memoir and an abstraction, a study in creativity and in perceived experience. This book intimately captures Rachel's inner machinations, inviting the reader inside.”

Grant Stoner: Accessibility in video games

The newest member of the WPDHAC team published an article in the Washington Post! Consortium media coordinator Grant Stoner reported on the work of accessibility consultants and the changes in the gaming industry. You can read Grant’s piece here.

COVID-19: Help Us Share Resources

If you’re aware of disability-related COVID-19 efforts or resources in your county or community, please let us know at We will be sharing information on the WPDHAC Facebook page.

Bridget Malley has worked with the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium as a Preservation Scholar since January 2019. She currently serves as a steering committee member with the Society of American Archivists’ Accessibility and Disability Section. 
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ADA 30 Logo in red and blue featuring symbols representing people with disabilities. Text reads: 'ADA for Allegheny County & Pittsburgh - ADA30 Americans with Disabilities Act 1990-2020: 30 Years Strong.'

Have you taken our survey?


If you haven't taken our survey yet, please do. The Consortium serves as a clearinghouse for records and artifacts that tell the story of disability rights history and activism in Western Pennsylvania. 

If you know of such items or information, we'd like to add them to the listings on our website. If you need help preserving them, we can help with that too. 

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