Center for Persons with Disabilities (UT) Celebrates 40 Years

January 23, 2012

Website Link

Utah State University's Center for Persons with Disabilities is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new exhibit and other activities slated throughout the month.

The celebration, to coincide with Human Rights Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was organized by a committee within the CPD to reflect how attitudes toward people with disabilities have changed over time, highlight significant legislation that has been passed, as well as the history of CPD itself.

"We really want to raise awareness (about people with disabilities) across all disciplines," said Kelly Smith, information specialist.

Jeff Sheen, celebration coordinator, said of the 40th anniversary: "It's a recognition of how far we've come (in recognizing people with disabilities), but also how much work we have left. ... We want people to recognize the great things that the center has done for 40 years, what our legacy is, so they can continue to work with us for the next 40 years."

The centerpiece of the anniversary festivities is an exhibit on the history of disability and advocacy in the Western world, available in Special Collections at the Merrill-Cazier Library through Jan. 27. It includes panels that outline the history of disability and advocacy, spanning 3,000 years.

"We see this as a civil rights issue; a social justice issue," Sheen said. "Some people don't make that distinction. There's another group that's been discriminated since the beginning of time. This is their story."

Then, on Jan. 20, the film "Lives Worth Living" will be screened at 1 p.m. in the Merrill-Cazier Library, Room 154, followed by a panel discussion. The 55-minute movie was produced by the PBS series Independent Lens, and it documents the history of America's disability rights movement.

The event is co-sponsored by the Disability Law Center.

The CPD is Utah's Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at Utah State University. Founded in 1972, the center is a resource center for people with disabilities and provides training for graduate and undergraduate students who wish to go into fields related to helping people with disabilities.

The research conducted at the CPD adds to the knowledge about disabilities, causes, diagnoses and the best ways to accommodate them in daily life, according to the center's website.

The CPD goes as far back as 1966, when federal officials visited Utah State University as they considered whether to establish a university-affiliated facility there. The CPD's founders sought to convince them their proposed center would have an educational focus instead of a medical one - a novel approach at the time.

A few years later, a grant was approved for the center's construction, and in 1972, the Exceptional Child Center was finished.

Sachin Pavithran, who is legally blind and has worked with the National Federation for the Blind, reflected on the significance of the 40th anniversary celebration of the CPD.

"It's a reality check for some people; it's in your face," he said. "Is the community going to include people with disabilities or exclude them? This issue is not going away."