Looking back, looking forward: July ADA news
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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. 

Join WPDHAC on July 22!



Pennsylvania State symbol in bright green with a front facing strong fist in white with a circle surrounding it. Words in alternate colors of white and royal blue say Disability Pride Virtual PA, Celebrating 30th Anniversary of the ADA.


Wednesday, July 22, 4:30-6:00pm
Learning from our History: Living Beyond the Walls of the Institution

Join the Western Pennsylvania Disability History Consortium, Temple University Institute on Disabilities, and Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance for a facilitated virtual discussion of the obstacles to living beyond the walls of institutionalized settings, current issues in community-based services, and what the future might hold.

Before the discussion, view one or more of the videos that will help frame the discussion:

From Wrongs to Rights (2013 / 8 minutes) tells the story of early 1970s activism in Western Pennsylvania that exposed the use of cages at Polk institution and led to the firing of the superintendent. The activism created momentum for the de-institutionalization movement. 

i go home (2016 / 56 minutes) recounts the history of barring children with intellectual disability from public schools and advising parents to send them to institutions. A late-1960s Philadelphia television news expose' shed light on deplorable conditions inside the walls of Pennhurst institution and motivated the public to demand change. 

Valuing Lives: Wolf Wolfensberger and the Principle of Normalization (2015 / 57 min.) explores the principle of “normalization”—a revolutionary idea in human services in the 1970s that challenged long-held assumptions about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and became the framework for human services. The historic shift in thinking was made popular by iconoclastic professor Wolf Wolfensberger. (Password for video: wolfdoc)

This event is offered in conjunction with Disability Pride Virtual PA, a 30-day statewide celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and ADA30 Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

To pre-register for this event or to join the event in progress, visit the 
Disability Pride Virtual PA website. Captioning and ASL interpretation will be provided.
For information:
Achieva to honor Dick Thornburgh
Among the many celebrations happening this month during the thirtieth anniversary of the ADA, Achieva is collecting thank-you notes that will be compiled into a keepsake book and presented to former Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornbugh.
Thornburgh was the U.S. Attorney General at the time of the ADA’s historic signing on July 26, 1990 and worked toward passage of the act from within the executive branch. Some of the archival materials in the Dick Thornburgh Papers, housed at the University of Pittsburgh, are
digitized and available online.
You can
submit a thank-you note to Governor Thornburgh here or send it to the following address:
Attn: Nancy Murray
711 Bingham Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
The deadline for sending a thank-you is July 17, 2020.


Read all about it: Nellie Bly
Coming soon in the Summer 2020 edition of the Western Pennsylvania History Magazine, read about famous Pittsburgher Nellie Bly. Bly was an investigative journalist who, among her many impressive reporting escapades, uncovered abuse at an asylum on Blackwell Island in New York. This article will compare Bly’s style of reporting with that of Ida Tarbell, also a Pennsylvania native. Look for a sidebar—written by Heinz History Center Chief Historian and Director of the Curatorial Division, Anne Madarasz—sharing news of a figure of Nellie Bly to be installed at the Pittsburgh International Airport.

White Cane Coffee

Looking for a caffeine fix? Check out the website of White Cane Coffee, a small business working to provide jobs with living wages for people with disabilities.
White Cane Coffee was founded in January 2019 by CEO Erin Willman, who is blind and—along with her brothers—on the autism spectrum. You can read more about the company in
an article by GoErie or listen to Erin and her father, Bob Willman, talk about the company in this podcast by iCantCU.

In Remembrance and Gratitude: MJ Bartelmay

We are deeply saddened to share that MJ Bartelmay, a member of the WPDHAC Steering Committee, passed away on July 5. Bartelmay was the parent of an adult son with disabilities and a renowned disability rights advocate at the local, statewide and national level; some of his many accomplishments are detailed in his obituary.
All of us who had the opportunity to know MJ as a friend — and experience his passion and effectiveness as an advocate — mourn his passing. MJ’s accomplishments and recognitions are legion. In late 2018, WPDHAC conducted a video interview with MJ about his lifetime of advocacy to build an effective system of home- and community-based supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The video interview will be available later this year.

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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