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Remembering Disability Advocacy Visionary Graham Mulholland

Graham Mulholland sits for an interview in a film studio. Used Courtesy of Temple University.Disability Advocacy scholar, Graham Mulholland, passed away last weekend on Sunday, October 18, 2020, at the age of 61. Mulholland, a lifelong disability advocate with over 30 years of direct support and policy experience, was a past director of the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council and a member of ODP's Information Sharing and Advisory Committee.

Mulholland, originally from Glasgow, Scottland, came to Pennsylvania early in his academic career to work at a summer camp for people with disabilities. In an interview series with the Temple University Institute on Disabilities, Mulholland describes the camp as, "what would now be this reprehensible camp for kids with, what were called, 'special needs', which was isolated and segregated." There Mulholland met his future wife, a camp tutor, and the pair lived in the United Kingdom before moving back to the United States when their firstborn child was nine months old.

Mulholland's passion for advocacy began when working with youth with mental illness. Mulholland himself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a very young age. Thanks to early intervention practices, Mulholland received the proper support, therapy, and medical services he needed to live with his bipolar disorder. He describes the societal pressure to "cure" his bipolar disorder as a misplaced notion and instead looks to create new ways of shaping a malleable society that can bend to accommodate and work with neurodiverse individuals. This sticking point is where Mulholland found a commonality with the developmental disability advocacy community in Pennsylvania. 

Mulholland's early career was spent reforming a federally funded Head Start program in Harrisburg. The program crammed approximately 245 low-income youth into a dark basement for various activities. Mulholland recognized the need to create a more formal program with expanded settings to allow growth and comfort. He worked on dividing the center into 14 different size-appropriate centers that offered educational services to low-income families. Mulholland worked to integrate the education, social work, and nutrition aspects of the program by working with parents. The result was a more holistic, well-rounded, and self-sustaining human services program.

In 1997, Graham Mulholland took over as Executive Director of The Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council. Graham possessed a birdseye view of development plans and strategies while at the PDDC. He lamented the time it took to move forward but worked diligently to see the needle shift in towards progress. Of his achievements at the PDDC, Mulholland saw the improvement of accessible public transportation in rural areas and pushed for classroom integration. Above all Graham believed that individuals need not change, but that the systems that serve individuals must be shaped around each person's unique needs. 

ODP would like to thank Graham and the Mulholland family for his extraordinary contributions to ID/A policy improvement in Pennsylvania. He will be sorely missed. Click here to offer condolences in the form of flowers or tree planting.