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Pittsburgh Has Work To Do To Include People With Disabilities In The City's Future

Courtesy of Heather Tomko
Heather Tomko is the founder of Acessible YOUniverse, an organization that advocates for accessibility and civil rights for disabled people.

Uneven sidewalks, limited navigable pathways and businesses without proper accomodations for wheelchairs are just some of the obstacles facing Heather Tomko every day. 

Tomko is a public health researcher at the University of Pittsburgh and the founder of Accessible YOUniverse, an organization that advocates for accessibility and civil rights for people with disabilities. She says she initially became an advocate "out of necessity" -- Tomko was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that requires her to use a wheelchair -- but since being crowned Ms. Wheelchair USA last summer, she says she's been afforded a larger platform from which to speak about accessibility and development. 

Some businesses, she says, adhere to the minimum standard of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but many don't consider how a person with disabilities might feel having to enter a restaurant through the kitchen instead of the front door. Those accommodations should be at the forefront of building plans for public spaces and businesses. 

"They're letting me come, but they don't really care if I'm there or not," she says. 

Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A barge moves up the Monongahela River. The locks and dams on the region's rivers ensure that they remain navigable.

Later in the program:

Allegheny County Council is considering a proposal that would ban mental health care professionals from providing conversion therapy to minors. 90.5 WESA's Sarah Boden talks with Dr. Alex Kon, pediatrician and president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, who says that although the society does not take an official position on the matter, conversion therapy should be prohibited. 

In some rural counties, organizations like Planned Parenthood are the only places where women can get low-cost reproductive health care, including birth control and breast cancer screenings paid for, in part, by Title X funding, which the Trump administration is hoping to change. 90.5 WESA's Lucy Perkins reports. 

And last year, President Donald Trump wanted to put a stop to the work on a much-needed, but very expensive, project to repair the locks and dams on the Lower Monongahela River. Now, the White House has reversed course with a $111 million proposal to complete the project. Joining the program to discuss ongoing repairs are:

  • Mary Ann Bucci, executive director of The Port of Pittsburgh Commission;
  • Peter Stephaich, chairman and CEO of Campbell Transportation Company; and
  • Steve Fritz, megaproject manager with the Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District.

90.5 WESA's Alex Lenigan and Julia Zenkevich contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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