This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
By Kate Giammarise
With the topic of employment for people with disabilities high on the agenda, 2,000 people are expected to convene next week at an annual disability and mental health summit in Downtown.
The gathering March 3 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center is organized by state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon; this is the summit’s seventh year and it is expected to be much larger than previous gatherings.
“Each year, the needs and issues continue to grow,” Mr. Miller said.
Many sessions will focus on the topic of employment for individuals with disabilities. But the more than 40 discussions will also include state human service officials giving information and updates on mental health resources, sessions for caregivers, sessions on understanding the intersection of mental health and addiction, and information about navigating the state’s Medicaid program.
There will also be a focus on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which this year marks its 30th anniversary.
“There are many, many people who don’t know that history … it’s important that people realize and remember that the ADA is one of the most important pieces of disability legislation ever passed in this country,” said Nancy Murray, president and chief executive officer of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh/ACHIEVA, who has been involved in planning for this and prior conferences.
A bipartisan panel of state lawmakers will also be discussing policies on disability and mental health.
“This is not about politics,” said Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Upper St. Clair, who will co-chair the legislative panel. “This is about the people of Pennsylvania, and certainly some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Ms. Mihalek was speaking at a news conference last week about the event.
“I think it is a great one-stop shop for people getting lots of different kinds of information,” said Mary Anderson Hartley, project director for Western Pennsylvania Disability and Action Consortium, who will be speaking on a panel about housing.
The event is “community-driven,” with programs that aim to give the information people are seeking, she said.
The event is free for attendees. Sponsors include Highmark, Gateway Health, The Staunton Farm Foundation, Community Care Behavioral Health Organization, FISA Foundation and PNC Financial Services Group.
The summit has taken place in prior years at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills in Scott, but it has outgrown that space, Mr. Miller said.
The planning and content development of the event is run through Mr. Miller’s office, but the fundraising is not, he said. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation serves as a fiscal agent.
State legislators often host gatherings for their constituents — meet-and-greets, paper shredding events, concealed carry permit events, or senior or veteran-focused resource fairs.
But the scale of this event is much greater.
“There’s nothing else like it,” said Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody and the House Democratic Caucus.
Mr. Miller has invited all of his House and Senate colleagues to attend, and the event has inspired another disability-focused event in the eastern part of the state, Mr. Patton said.
“He’s been careful to do it the right way. It’s very policy-focused. It’s not a tool for political promotion. He’s well-connected with advocates and experts and able to leverage that into getting everyone together at one time,” Mr. Patton said.
More information is available at http://www.disabilitysummit.com/