Judith Barricella Obituary, Death – Judith “Judy” Barricella, 75, a fierce champion for disability has died on November 14, 2022, after a series of health setbacks. Judith was a persistent advocate for disability rights who accomplished a great deal in a life committed to bringing about justice and progress. Ms. Barricella, who has used a wheelchair since she was four years old due to polio, was Allegheny County’s first American with Disabilities Act coordinator and was present at the White House when the groundbreaking law aimed at achieving equality for people with disabilities was signed in 1990.
“Judy left such a legacy,” said Kristy Trautmann, executive director of the FISA Foundation, an organization that campaigns for equality for women, girls, and people with disabilities. “She possessed the ideal combination of tenacity and persistence, as well as the patience and impatience required to work on long-term change.” As a child growing up in Etna, Ms. Barricella had to learn to be resourceful and self-sufficient. “I remember Judy getting polio,” her Hampton cousin Joe Barricella recalled. “Everyone in the family was afraid because polio was spreading across America. Nobody knew what caused it, and no one knew how to treat it. Vaccinations were not accessible at the time.”
More than 3,000 people died during a nationwide outbreak of the disease in the early 1950s, according to the World Health Organization. A few years later, in 1955, it was disclosed that Jonas Salk, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, had developed a vaccine that would almost completely eradicate the virus that had terrified parents and destroyed children all over the world. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” her five-year-old cousin said. “If you could have seen her struggles as a little girl after being diagnosed with polio, and then as an adult — she truly was a real-life hero to accomplish everything she did and fight so hard for the crippled community,” the author writes.
Her cousin said that the hefty leg braces she wore as a child were eventually replaced by a wheelchair. “Judy was never grumpy or bitter,” he explained. “She had a wonderful attitude and was always cheerful and smiling. She was determined to live a full life, and she was successful. It never deterred her.” Ms. Barricella earned a bachelor’s degree from Pitt and a master’s degree from the University of South Florida before becoming a fellow at the Pitt School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. According to a FISA Foundation profile, she started a speech therapy program at the Association for Retarded Citizens (now Achieva) early in her career, and in 1980 she was the founding director of the Center for Independent Living, where she stayed for ten years.
Her relative reported that she adopted two sons and worked in disability advocacy at several organizations and firms while raising the boys as a single mother. According to FISA, Ms. Barricella established a program at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services to better meet the needs of people with disabilities, and she became the first director of the Disability Connection, later renamed the Aging and Disability Resource Center (Allegheny Link), a one-stop shop for seeking services and obtaining benefits. Before retiring in 2015, Ms. Barricella worked as the county’s first ADA coordinator and on other committees and boards. Throughout her career, she has received various honors and accolades.
According to Ms. Trautmann, her significance on the field of equal rights cannot be overstated. “She was a fantastic person. “I believe the majority of people are uninformed of the disability rights movement,” she said. “We hear about civil rights, women’s rights, and marriage equality, but most people don’t grasp how hard people with disabilities had to fight for equal access, and Judy was part of it from the very beginning. “She was on the White House lawn when the ADA was signed in 1990.” (by President George H.W. Bush). She was without a doubt a giant, a leader, and a local activist who campaigned for some of the advances we now have.”
They met while Ms. Barricella was the director of Disability 2000, a nonprofit created to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the ADA. It was also established to keep ADA rules in place. “[The ADA] was a great milestone, but a lot of work remained to be done to achieve that aim,” Ms. Trautmann noted. Ms. Barricella was a crucial character in the law’s localization, working with disability and civil rights leaders, as well as officials and legislators, to encourage accessibility at events like the Three Rivers Arts Festival. “Every year, I visit the festival. “I enjoy what they have here, especially the Artists Market,” Ms. Barricella told the Post-Gazette in June 2002. “However, it appeared that getting around was becoming increasingly difficult.”
In addition to her efforts to promote disability rights in areas such as employment, the arts, and basic accessibility, Ms. Barricella created “Voices of our Region,” a project that recorded the histories of 57 people with disabilities in the Pittsburgh region. All records created have been delivered to the Senator John Heinz History Center. “It was a huge undertaking,” Ms. Trautmann said. “They noticed that there were many, many people involved in civil rights for people with disabilities whose voices had not been heard. “They documented who was involved and what was needed to finish the work.” Tina Calabro, the mother of a son with cerebral palsy, was one of Ms. Barricella’s many personal acquaintances in the disability community.
“Back in the day, there was a place called the Center for Creative Play, and it was a place for families like ours to get together and communicate and help one other,” Highland Park resident Ms. Calabro explained. “And there she was, a crippled mother of two sons. We were fairly close after those late-1990s days. There, Judy and I did a lot of disability advocacy work together.” Ms. Calabro also supported Ms. Barricella’s efforts as a freelance writer who wrote the “Breaking Gazette’s Down Barriers” column for the Post from 2002 to 2014. According to Ms. Calabro, Ms. Barricella was the county’s go-to person for anything relating to disability rights. Her friend also worked with the United Way to oversee its “21 and Able” project to help young adults navigate life after high school, when many of their social benefits were curtailed. “It was this big project to actually grasp the shift from school to adult life,” Ms. Calabro recalled.
According to a friend, Ms. Barricella will be remembered for her uncompromising dedication to disability rights at a time when universal awareness and accessibility seemed like a pipe dream. “Everyone paid attention when she spoke,” Ms. Calabro recalled. “Everyone recognized her and recognized her power. When she accomplished things, they were out in the open, not concealed behind closed doors. She took actions that resulted in long-term transformation.” Ms. Barricella’s sons, Jesse Paul and Anthony Samuel Barricella, as well as her sister Carla Barricella and grandson Aaron Mathew Barricella, survive her.