Intersecting Tales of Tragedy and Triumph: Historical and Personal Perspectives on Pennhurst

The legacy of Pennhurst, the infamous institution outside Philadelphia, PA, lies at the very core of our nation’s disability rights movement. Its history of tragedies and triumphs culminated in the federal rights to education and to community living. How did its horrific past yield to a future of compassion and rights? And how did it grant one young woman her freedom? Come hear our stories. After this session participants will be able to: 1. Summarize Pennhurst’s influence in our nation’s disability rights movement, including the ability to… Describe the horrific treatment of people at Pennhurst and how it went so awry within the first few years of operation (opened in 1908); Explain why the Judge Broderick ruled to close Pennhurst by 1987; Prove the errors, dangers and fallacies in any defense of institutional living; Describe the nation’s slow evolution in transferring from segregated to integrated settings; Understand the research and statistical data in the Pennhurst Longitudinal Study that support the reasons why community inclusion is the best model, as all scientifically measured; Understand that even creating a “good’ institution does not work; Identify how “economy of scale” affects validity of benchmarks for determining the best number of people to live with and that the group home model is not the best option; Explain why federal funding continues to pay for institutions and even if there were potentially tremendous resources, studies have proven there is no increase in a person’s skill development or quality of life in an institution. 2. Discuss one woman’s personal journey from being institutionalized as a child to gaining freedom as an adult living in the community because of the famous court order that closed Pennhurst. 3. Understand and explain how Pennhurst positively impacted the future of the disability rights movement and one woman’s personal story.

James Conroy, Jean Searle