disAbility Conference Celebrates 10th Year


        On the first day of his first job out of college, Dale DiLeo was charged with observing the activities of young people with autism living in a group home.  Part of that charge was to ensure that the residents were performing personal tasks essential to daily living. What he found was something very surprising – and disturbing.

        While all of the residents were brushing their teeth, all 35 young people used the same toothbrush. More disturbing was the indifferent response from supervisors.

        Still, they did what needed to be done and each resident received their own toothbrush. As the weeks went on, however, DiLeo observed more injustices.

        Reflecting on this experience as a featured speaker of the 10th Annual Northeastern Conference on disAbility at The University of Scranton on Oct. 5, DiLeo aptly concluded, “ We fixed the problem of the ‘broken toothbrush’ but the model was still broken.”

        DiLeo, author of the book Raymond’s Room and a widely sought-after speaker and consultant, was the closing speaker at the conference, which featured prominent legislators and government officials, leaders of service agencies for persons with disabilities and educators.

        At the opening of the conference, University of Scranton President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J., celebrated the work and commitment of Edward Leahy ’68, H’01 and Patricia Leahy, honorary chairpersons of the conference. “They model what we celebrate at the University,” said Fr. Quinn, noting Scranton’s commitment to service and promotion of justice.

        The conference marked its 10th anniversary this year with the theme of  “Transition Planning: In School, To Work, for Life.” While the conference theme has varied from year to year, a consistent message spanned the past decade, according to  J. Joseph Grady, Esq. ’81. Reflecting on comments made by Ed Leahy at a previous conference, Grady noted that the 10 years of disability dialogue is “about giving people (with disabilities) a chance.” Grady introduced the Honorable Robert P. Casey, United States Senator for Pennsylvania, who addressed the audience via videoconference from Washington, D.C.

        Senator Casey, too, applauded the leadership of the Leahys and emphasized the importance of making sure that “we make it clear that someone with a disability has a lot to offer.”

Keynote speakers throughout the day included:

  • Kathleen West-Evans, MPA, CRC, director of business relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation 
  • Beth A. Butler, Esq., director, Diversity and Inclusion, Lowe’s Companies, Inc. 
  • David DeNotaris, director, Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services
  • Steve Wooderson, executive director, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation
  • The Honorable Lynnae Ruttledge, commissioner, Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

        During the luncheon, the annual Edward R. Leahy, Jr. Awards for Excellence were presented. This year’s awards honored the work of Commissioner Ruttledge, West-Evans and, posthumously, Roger Barton, who served in various vocational rehabilitation positions for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over almost four decades.

        The luncheon also included remarks from Cindy Klenk, senior policy advisor for Pennsylvania Senator John P. Blake G’01. In her remarks, Klenk noted that “It’s a long journey from legislation to progress. That’s why it’s important to celebrate the dialogue that this conference enables.”

        The conference was presented by The University of Scranton’s Panuska College of Professional Studies, under the leadership of Dean Debra A. Pellegrino, Ed.D., and the Edward R. Leahy Jr. Endowment.

         Conference co-chairs were Lori Bruch Ed.D., director of the rehabilitation counseling program; Rebecca Spirito-Dalgin, Ph.D., associate professor of counseling and human services; and Valarie Clark


Gathered at the opening of The University of Scranton’s 10th Annual Northeastern Conference on disAbility are, from left: Conference Lori Bruch, Ed.D, conference co-chair; Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D., dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies; Patricia and Edward Leahy, honorary co-chairs of the conference; Kevin P. Quinn, S.J., president of The University of Scranton;  Rebecca Spirito-Dalgin, Ph.D., conference co-chair; and Valarie Clark, conference co-chair.

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