Close to 100 people gathered on May 31 for our first 2018 event, “Let’s Not Repeat the Past: History Meets Disability Advocacy 2018.”
Michael Gamel-McCormick, Disability Policy Director for U.S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, gave the keynote speech, “United States Disability Policy: A Rich History, An Unsure Future.” He noted what he described as three “lightning bolts” in the battle for civil rights for people with disabilities:
• the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
• the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now known as IDEA), which started in Pennsylvania as PARC v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
• the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act
He credited advocates in attendance as being key contributors to the progress made thus far and to maintaining these gains, specifically citing last summer’s healthcare fight.
“Without the people in this room, the ACA [Affordable Care Act] would be gone and Medicaid would have been capped.”
Gamel-McCormick said the struggle for full equality and inclusion will continue because we have not yet reached the point where all agree on basic principles and necessary frameworks for support.
A lively panel discussion followed his talk. Highlights including:
- Debra (DJ) Stemmler, of Accessible Pittsburgh talked about recent policy efforts to ensure that the ADA with a focus on zero-step entrances was prioritized in the Pittsburgh Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections.
- Joan Stein, of Stein Consulting, LLC talked about businesses still being inaccessible, sometimes because they are unaware or misinformed, and how building codes don’t always line up with ADA requirements.
- Jamelia Morgan, from the Abolitionist Law Center, explained her work to improve conditions for people with disabilities in prison. Citing security concerns, prisons often don’t allow basic accommodations—such as assistive devices—and worse, they frequently put people with disabilities in solitary confinement.
- Cori Frazer, of the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, talked about waiting lists for services, the inaccessibility of the application process, and the difficulty of balancing employment income with the potential loss of necessary supports.
- Nancy Murray, from The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh, took a long view, noting the progress we’ve made along with the need to keep moving forward by closing the remaining institutions, improving employment opportunities and housing options, and giving people with intellectual disabilities more decision-making power.
Be sure to save the date for part two of “Let’s Not Repeat the Past” from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Thursday, October 18, 2018.