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Philadelphia Self-Advocacy Pioneer Roland Johnson Recognized by The New York Times

Roland Johnson stands next to President George H.W. Bush both admiring the newly signed American's with Disabilities Act. Photo used Courtesy of AB Historic/Alamy.As a part of their new series, Overlooked, the New York Times has written a newly published feature highlighting the life and work of Philadelphia Self-Advocacy Pioneer Roland JohnsonOverlooked seeks to highlight important stories of the twentieth century that had gone unreported by the Times.

Roland Johnson was an integral figure in dismantling institutionalization in Pennsylvania and the nation. In 1958, Johnson was admitted to Pennhurst State School and Hospital. He would later recollect the terrible realities of Pennhurst, exposing neglect, sexual assault, and beatings. Johnson was eventually able to leave Pennhurst and started advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. His work was vital to the 1987 shutdown of Pennhurst. 

Roland Johnson continued to spearhead the self-advocacy movement throughout Philadelphia in the 1970s. His work led him to become the president of Speaking for Ourselves where he mentored others with disabilities and relayed the necessary skills to build upon the grassroots self-advocacy movement. He became the mentor for the incumbent president of Speaking for Ourselves and ODP Information Sharing and Advisory Committee member, Deborah Robinson. 

Johnson went on to join the board of Self Advocates Becoming Empowered and was a part of the delegation that joined President George H.W. Bush on the South Lawn of the White House for the signing of the American's with Disabilities Act.

Roland Johnson passed away on August 26, 1994, but the shockwaves left by his legacy are still felt throughout the nation today.