Registration open for our May 31 event! Plus, read about our latest preservation work, a workshop on May 3, and Torrance State's centennial plans.

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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. 
Logo says Let's Not Repeat the Past: History Meets Disability Advocacy 2018

Join us on May 31! Speaker and panel will look to the future using the lessons of history

APRIL 2018 

Please join us for 
Let’s Not Repeat the Past: History Meets Disability Advocacy 2018

The Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium 
and the Heinz History Center present
“United States Disability Policy: A Rich History, An Unsure Future”
by Michael Gamel-McCormick
Disability Policy Director for U.S. Senator Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania

Following the talk, a vibrant panel of leading regional advocates will discuss how the disability rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s informs their own experiences and present-day advocacy.

Thursday, May 31, 2018
9:30 am - 12:00 pm
at Rodef Shalom Temple, 4905 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15213

Admission is free but please register in advance by May 25

Accessibility: ASL interpretation will be provided.
Other accommodations available upon request. Please request by contacting Mary Hartley at or 412-204-7199 no later than May 15.

Parking is available and the location is close to major bus lines.

Funding for this event provided by the Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust. Support also provided by ACHIEVA; the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, 21 and Able Initiative; and the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.

Drawing of Dibert Building at Torrance State Hospital
An architectural drawing of the Dibert Building, a former administrative building that is no longer standing at Torrance State Hospital. Courtesy of Torrance State Hospital. 

Torrance State Hospital plans panel, timeline exhibit, and more to mark centennial


Angela Harris, Chief Social Rehabilitation Executive at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County, spoke to the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium's survey committee about Torrance's centennial in 2019 and their plans to open a historic museum in the former superintendent’s house.
The commemoration will take place the week of October 7, 2019, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week. Thus far, plans include an open house, a panel discussion that covers the changes in mental illness treatment through different eras, and a timeline exhibit. A written publication is also under consideration. Historical societies in Derry and Blairsville have contributed historic materials. A committee at Torrance has been meeting since 2014 to plan the 100-year commemoration.
Committee members recommended a few resources to aid in Torrance's planning and preservation efforts:

  • Torrance is already gathering oral histories from former employees; Consortium survey committee members suggested avenues to find former patients to get their stories as well.
  • Emily Ruby, curator at the Heinz History Center and Consortium steering committee member, and Sierra Green, archivist at the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives and Consortium steering committee member, offered to meet with the Torrance committee to offer advice on how best to preserve the facility's artifacts and archives, which includes photos, postcards, programs, newsletters dating back to 1955, a wooden wheelchair, and much more. Their collection also includes items from Dixmont, Mayview, and Harrisburg, former state hospitals which closed as people moved out of institutions and back into the community.
  • Consortium members noted the Pennhurst Preservation History Panels as a resource. The Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance has used the history of the now-closed Pennhurst State School and Hospital in eastern Pennsylvania to tell the story of deinstitutionalization and the historic struggle for civil rights by and for people with disabilities.
  • Consortium members suggested possible grant sources that might help fund the preservation work the Torrance committee is doing.

Half-day workshop will discuss engaging the community to build meaningful inclusion


Photo of Erik CarterThe Institute on Disabilities at Temple University will present a free half-day workshop from 9:30 to noon on Thursday, May 3, on Changing the Conversation: Engaging Communities in Improving Outcomes for Individuals with Disabilities.

Erik Carter of Vanderbilt University will focus on creating true community-based solutions by engaging people who are not already familiar with the challenges faced by people with disabilities. By including everyone, goals like integrated employment, inclusive education, community participation, independent living, and congregational inclusion can become much more attainable.

The event is free, but registration is required. Location is Rodef Shalom, 4905 5th Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.

For more information and to register, visit the online event listing.

Survey committee reports on continuing preservation efforts and historical resources


The Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium's survey committee met recently to continue their ongoing work of locating, cataloging, and encouraging preservation of archives, collections, and artifacts related to disability history in Western Pennsylvania. 

Among the topics discussed: 

• The Consortium is coordinating donations of relevant media to Heinz History Center's archives, including:
    • A copy of the Voices of our Region oral history project
    • A copy of the From Wrongs to Rights video
    • A copy of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf's book on their history
    • A collection of photos from Paul Dick, a notable local disability activist.
    • A copy of Small Differencesa locally-produced film about inclusion of people with disabilities

Sierra Green, archivist at the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives and Consortium steering committee member, shared some disability history resources recommended at a session at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC): 
    • The 2013 book A Disability History of the United States by Kim E. Nielsen 
    • A public disability history website that presents blog posts and articles on disability topics from around the world. 
(A more extensive report on the MARAC conference can be found on the Consortium website.) 

Angela Harris, Chief Social Rehabilitation Executive at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County, spoke about the facility's 100 year anniversary commemeration in 2019 and their plans to open a historic museum in the former superintendent’s house. See full story elsewhere in this newsletter.

Ongoing outreach to help other Western Pennsylvania organizations preserve and share their historical items. 

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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