Website chronicles Pa.’s history as center of disability rights movement

    A new website called “Visionary Voices” chronicles Pennsylvania’s history as the center of the disability rights movement.

    The site’s creators say the current budget debate in Harrisburg makes the content all the more pertinent.

    As a young mother, Audrey Coccia listened to testimony about horrific treatment of patients at Penhurst, an institution for people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities. She decided this would never happen to her daughter, Gina. But Gina didn’t have the options available today.

    “At that point, you could not go to public school if you had significant disabilities. You were considered to be ‘uneducable,'” recalled Coccia.

    Coccia says parents had to pay out of pocket for all services. She became an ardent advocate for her daughter who is 47 now and still lives at home. Coccia’s story is featured on the new website “Visionary Voices,” which chronicles major events and major players in the disability rights movement.

    Celia Feinstein of Temple’s Institute on Disabilities, which put together the site, says the fight for the right to an education for all kids started in Pennsylvania.

    “Park v. Pennsylvania was a landmark piece of litigation that enabled children with significant disabilities to go to school for the very first time,” Feinstein said.

    Feinstein said understanding the long struggle is especially important right now.

    “Budget cuts across the state, across the nation, are putting people in significant jeopardy of losing all that we have fought for over the past fifty years,” she said.

    Feinstein says a lot of the services on the chopping block are the services that support people in living in the community. If these services go away, she says, many people might be faced with institutionalization.

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