IM this article to a friend!

October 5, 2004

Event highlights needs of disabled

From: Leader Times, PA - Oct 5, 2004

By Karen Roebuck
Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Samantha Murphy was bound to a wheelchair Monday.

Bungee cords tied down her legs and wrists; yellow straps harnessed her to the chair.

Passersby did double takes of her perched atop the steps of the City-County Building, Downtown, then quickly looked away when she raised her palm to wave.

And that was the point of a kickoff to National Disability Awareness Month: to bring attention to the people with disabilities, their needs and how words can misportray them.

"We want people to understand how language could help or hurt," said Judith Barricella, director of The Disability Connection, an Allegheny County agency that sponsored the lunchtime event. Barricella uses a wheelchair -- the description she prefers.

While Murphy, who does not need a wheelchair, was only illustrating a point, 17-year-old Marisa Mills, a senior at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Edgewood who is hard of hearing, regularly faces misconceptions and rudeness about her disability.

"We get offended when people ask us if we can drive or if we can get pregnant. They act like we're stupid," she said in sign language as a school adviser interpreted. She was surrounded by seven classmates and members of SIGNSHINE, which performed several songs before a crowd of about 50.

"It's good to be a part of it," said James Macgill, 17, a junior, "because we wanted to show that deaf people can do anything. We don't just sit back -- we're involved."

Sometimes strangers will mock her and her hearing-impaired friends when they sign in public, Mills said. Usually, she ignores it, but sometimes she fights back with words, surprising her insulters who do not realize she can speak.

About 214,000 Allegheny County residents have disabilities, said county Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who proclaimed October as Disability Awareness Month in the county.

John Tague Jr., who uses a wheelchair and is board chairman of the Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council, said people with disabilities want to live independently but need the support of government to ensure they have access to affordable housing and dependable transportation.

copyright 2004 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.