Cheryl Parrino beamed as she stood next to the black-and-white photograph of an abandoned building she snapped last month.
When asked about her choice she quickly responded, “because we need a place where we can go and meet other people with special needs in the community.”
Parrino’s photograph is just one of 19 featured in the photo voice project “We Belong,” which promotes photographs and narratives from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The project debuted in late March at the Chartiers Township Municipal Building, and the organization is making plans for it to travel around the county to raise awareness about people with disabilities, including a stop later this spring at the Washington County Courthouse. Its purpose is to highlight the various ways in which different people contribute, support and build their community.
Parrino hopes the photographs challenge the community to change their views about people with disabilities.
“We want you to see us and not our disabilities,” the Canonsburg resident said. “We hope these photos can open the world for someone else.”
Parrino and the 11 other photographers are clients of the Washington Arc Advantage Self-Advocacy program, which teaches self-awareness, problem-solving and other skills. The Rev. Sally Jo Snyder, director of Advocacy and Community Engagement of the Consumer Health Coalition in Pittsburgh, leads the advocacy program. This is the third photo project she spearheaded in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
“The photos are incredible in their range and heart about what it means to belong to community and how we can build a community where we each belong,” Synder said. “Photo voice is a grassroots effort used by people marginalized and often isolated.”
Many of the pictures depicted scenes of bridges, fences or abandoned and damaged buildings.
“The photos and the narratives impact you as you realize all that the community means and is and needs to be for everyone,” Synder said.