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DHS News Newsletter January 2004 

DHS, OCR open The Disability Connection 

January 2004

In order to elevate the issues of quality of life, equal opportunity and effective participation in the community for all people with disabilities in Allegheny County, the Department of Human Services (DHS), through the Office of Community Relations, has created The Disability Connection to help coordinate efforts to improve services to people with disabilities.

Last year, DHS received a grant for $75,000 for the first year of this special project from the Human Service Integration Fund, a result of a proposal written to HSIF. In the proposal, the working title for this special project was Office of Disabilities. The name has since changed to The Disability Connection to illustrate more clearly the purpose of building and sustaining a community that fully integrates people with disabilities.

Prior to opening the Disability Connection, DHS received input from many people within the community, including members of the City of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County Task Force on Disabilities and the Disability Agenda, Connect with Respect committees, on the value of opening such an office. Feedback was extensive and supportive.

The Disability Connection will continue the work of the Disability Agenda with regards to grant writing efforts, employment, public awareness, support services, accessibility, housing, education and improved services to people with disabilities. Judy Barricella, former coordinator of the Disability Agenda, has been named as director of The Disability Connection, and Jana Finder, former project director for the Disabilities Law Project will join The Disability Connection as Senior Disability Specialist.

As the City of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County Task Force on Disabilities played an integral role in the creation and development of the Disability Agenda, the Executive Committee of the Task Force has agreed to serve as an advisory group to The Disability Connection. Advice of additional stakeholders will be utilized on an ad hoc basis.

Moving forward…

Not only will The Disability Connection ensure that the County is sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities through education and training of staff, but the special project will play a role in changing attitudes towards what it means to be a person with a disability and re-frame issues to focus on people’s strengths instead of their perceived weaknesses.

The Disability Connection will play a pivotal role in obtaining additional funding for people with disabilities in Allegheny County by coordinating grant-writing efforts. The program will identify potential grants and bring the proper organizations to the table to form coalitions and start the application process.

The Disability Connection will address disability-related questions that come through any of the County “hotlines,” directing callers to resources that already exist in the community. In addition, the special project will have its own toll-free hotline (1-888-755-5222) that will be available to the public and to County employees.

More information on disabilities

Today, there are approximately 113,000 people with a severe disability in Allegheny County (one that restricts a major life activity such as personal hygiene, driving, meal preparation, etc.). DHS estimates that more than 100,000 individuals with less severe disabilities live in the County. Statistics show that Americans with disabilities lag behind their peers in some key predictors of self-sufficiency.

In 2001, the National Council on Disability reported that:

  • Unemployment rates for working-age adults with disabilities have hovered at the 70 percent level for at least the past 12 years;
  • Home ownership rates for people with disabilities are in the single digits, while rates for people without disabilities are about 71 percent;  and
  • National diploma graduation rates for students who receive special education and related services have stagnated at 27 percent for the past three years, while rates are 75 percent for students who do not rely on special education.

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