Scranton disAbility Conference Celebrates a Decade of Impact and Growth

            It’s no accident that The University of Scranton’s Northeastern U.S. Conference on disAbility is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a powerful magnet for leaders and leading-edge research – helping people with disabilities maximize their quality of life.

            Putting our annual conference on the map has taken a vision that aligns with the University’s legacy of community service, a commitment by volunteer faculty and staff, and an endowment established by an alumnus whose life has been touched by disability.

            The annual conference is presented by The University of Scranton’s Panuska College of Professional Studies and the Edward R. Leahy, Jr. Endowment, which was created in 1995 to honor the life of its namesake. Honorary conference chairpersons are his parents, Edward R. Leahy ’68, H’01 and Patricia Leahy, director of governmental affairs for the National Rehabilitation Association.

           “We established the endowment as a way to remember our son and do something to help children with disabilities,” said Edward Leahy. “Edward asked so little and taught us so much about what is really important,” added Patricia Leahy. The endowment provides financial resources to support research, faculty development, and support for programs that advance the cause of disabled persons.

           This year’s conference, titled “Transition Planning: In School, To Work, For Life,” is being presented on Wednesday, Oct. 5

           According to Lori A. Bruch, Ed.D., director of the rehabilitation counseling program at The University of Scranton and co-chair for this year’s Conference on disAbility, “Mr. .and Mrs. Leahy wanted to bring best practice ideas and resources to the community. Their drive and connections attracted prominent keynote presenters, and over the years, the conference has developed a growing following by providing practical information, an opportunity for networking, and cultural offerings from people with disabilities.”

            Dr. Bruch has been involved with all 10 conferences, which have covered topics including empowering school-age students, transitioning from school to work, strengthening family-professional partnerships, enhancing the quality of life of individuals with disabilities, veterans issues and the evolution of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

            Past keynote speakers include John Hockenberry, an Emmy Award-winning journalist; Richard Pimentel, disability rights activist and subject of the film “Music Within;” and well-known authors including Denise Bissonnette, Br. Rick Curry, S.J, Dr. Edward Hallowell and Jonathan Mooney. A highlight of recent events has been videoconference participation by U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., who will also speak at this year’s conference.

            Other speakers at the Oct. 5 conference include The Honorable Lynnae M. Ruttledge, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education; Kathleen West-Evans, director of business relations for the national Council of State Administrators in Vocational Rehabilitation; David DeNotaris is the director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services; and Dale DiLeo, author, consultant and well-known advocate for people with disabilities.

            “In addition to the Leahys, there are so many people who deserve credit for the success of the disAbility Conference,” said Dr. Bruch. “Keith Williams, community organizer for the NEPA Center for Independent Living, has been involved with every event. And the commitment of Debra A. Pellegrino, Ed.D., dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies, is infectious; her energy fuels us.”

            Dean Pellegrino, who joined The University of Scranton community in 2007, believes that this is where the conference belongs. She said, “Thanks to the Leahys’ endowment, corporate sponsorships and efforts by our volunteer co-chairs, costs to participants are minimal, and the conference is first class all the way.” Dr. Pellegrino, who came to Scranton after a distinguished career in public education, believes that “teamwork makes a big difference in improving the quality of life for people with disabilities –involving parents, educators, community providers, as well as the individuals themselves.”

            That kind of teamwork is also responsible for the success of the Conference on disAbility – and its decade-long record of positively impacting the lives of people with disabilities by helping to promote an effective learning environment, collaborative and focused discussion, and the identification and sharing of effective practices.

            The conference is being presented by The University of Scranton’s Panuska College of Professional Studies and the Edward R. Leahy Jr. Endowment. Conference co-chairs are Dr. Bruch, Rebecca Spirito-Dalgin, Ph.D., associate professor of counseling and human services; and Valarie Clark, manager of creative services.

            The conference fee includes a continental breakfast and awards luncheon. For additional information or to register for the conference, visit

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