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Letters to the Editor | July 21, 2023

July 21, 2023 | online article

Inquirer readers on historic district designations, taking action on climate change, and what justice means in the case of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.

In 1916, an Inquirer article called the old Pennhurst State School and Hospital for people with disabilities “nothing less than a concerted movement to attempt to control the breeding of feeble-minded and defective individuals within the State of Pennsylvania.” What real progress has been made in how we care for those with disabilities over the last century? Certainly, the professional parlance has changed. Terms like “people with disabilities” have replaced “feeble-minded.” The cliché of basket weaving as a meaningful activity was replaced with real employment as a more utilitarian outcome.

Pennhurst was closed in 1987, the Western Center in Pittsburgh followed in 2000, and over the years, many other institutions for those with disabilities across the country have been replaced by small community homes. Public education became a right for people with disabilities, and the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Still, because of underfunding for programs for people with disabilities, the operation of large congregate institutions continues. The state institutional cost per person within the commonwealth can exceed $600,000 a year.

Our governor has told me that he is committed to improving the lives of those with disabilities. He fixed I-95 in record time. As the leader of a nonprofit supporting people with disabilities, I hope he can focus his political will on this issue, too. It’s essential that we rebalance the population of large facilities and bolster funding for community programs to ensure that we make real progress for those with disabilities over the next century.

Robert Stack, president and CEO, Community Options