Online Database To Collect Historical Artifacts Of Pennsylvanians With Disabilities

Jun 27, 2016

Organizers with the Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium are collecting artifacts relaying the history of Pennsylvanians' with disabilities. The online database will likely include scores of former legislative drafts, possibly including House Bill 400 signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, which emphasized work experience for high school students with disabilities.
Credit Gov. Tom Wolf Administration

  Local historians are creating an online database chronicling Pittsburgh’s disability history.

The Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium was created to centralize legislation, photos, videos and equipment belonging to state agencies. It’ll also provide information and a tool for advocacy groups, organizers said.  

“This is a history that has gone through a great deal of change since the 1970s,” said Anne Madarasz, museum division director at the Heinz History Center. “And the opportunity to document the past is being lost to time. If we don’t preserve this history, then trying to reconstruct and give people (with disabilities) a voice in their own history could very well be lost.”

The history center is partnering with nine other local organizations to compile data and sift through historical items that might inform Pennsylvanians' perspectives before they’re discarded.

“You’ve got to look at what kinds of records survive,” Madarasz said. “Some of those may be in the community from staff people who worked there and wrote diaries to newspaper accounts. So, you have to think really broadly about the primary source documentation that might exist from the period and what you can learn from it.”

Project Director John Tague said that by collecting and publicizing the history of disability rights, he hopes to bring awareness to past injustices.

“This is a civil rights movement,” Tague said. “We do not want the return to the days of institutional care.”

Madarasz said that local archivists and historians are consulting with organizers to ensure artifacts are collected and documented accurately.