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Photo Exhibit Recalls History Of Disability-Rights Movement

The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. But like any civil-rights legislation, it required a fight. And photographer Tom Olin was on the front lines

Olin remains perhaps the best-known documenter of the disability-rights movement. His iconic images include “Capitol Crawl,” which captured the March 1990 protest when disabled demonstrators climbed the steps to the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on their hands and knees to illustrate the access challenges faced by people with disabilities in public places.

The "Road to Freedom Tour 2019" runs 4-7 p.m. Thu., April 11, at 819 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

Among those whom Olin’s images influenced were Shona Eakin. In the early ’90s, Eakin was an activist and student at Edinboro University, in Western Pennsylvania, when she saw Olin’s work for the first time.

“For me, it was a moment in history that helped me understand that being a person with a disability, it was part of a larger movement that I wanted to learn more about,” she says. Eakin went on to lead Voices for Independence, a community-resources group for people with disabilities in Erie.

Pittsburghers can see Olin’s work for themselves when “Road to Freedom Tour 2019,” a traveling exhibit featuring about 30 of the Texas-based photographer’s images, comes to town for a pop-up exhibit Thursday. The show celebrates the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

After a stop earlier this week in Columbus, Ohio, the tour hits a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust space at 819 Penn Avenue. The exhibit will last just three hours before it heads for Millersville University, southeast of Harrisburg. But Olin will be on hand to speak and answer questions.

Eakin, who will also attend, says the photos tell an important story spanning decades.

“They are a depiction of the real, live stories of people who have put themselves on the line to further our movement, and he’s one of the only people that are capturing that history,” she says.

Other sponsors of the exhibit here include Transitional Pathways to Independent Living, a disability-rights advocacy group, and the Western Pennsylvania Disability History & Action Consortium.