Disability Pride Parades are held annually in many communities around the country, usually around the July 26 anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in order to celebrate the value and identities of people with disabilities. Have you ever attended a Disability Pride Parade in your city? Zoe Gross, the Patricia Morrissey Disability Policy Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development shares her experience with the parade in Philadelphia.
“People say we need to be fixed,” said Mark Perriello, the president of the American Association of People with Disabilities. “Well, we gathered today at the Liberty Bell – that has a crack in it, but no one says it needs to be fixed!” We all applauded this statement in our own way. I raised my hands and flapped them over my head.
Perriello was addressing the crowd at the second annual Philadelphia Disability Pride Parade. The event organizers chose to hold the parade on June 22nd, the 14th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. Olmstead held that segregation of people with disabilities in institutions constitutes discrimination, and public entities must provide community-based services whenever possible. The parade served to celebrate our community’s progress towards integration since the Olmstead decision, as well as to remind us that there is more work to be done. One woman spoke to the crowd about how she had been institutionalized and now works as an advocate for other people with disabilities who want to leave institutions. “It’s like being in jail for a long time,” she said. “It’s great to be out.”
Some attendees carried signs with messages in support of deinstitutionalization: “FREE OUR PEOPLE,” and “Proud, Angry and Strong.” My personal favorite sign read, “To Boldly Go Where Everyone Has Gone Before,” updating the Star Trek motto for the community living movement. People with disabilities are still fighting for full integration into the workplace, the community, for access to pools and polling places and taxis, all the places where non-disabled people have gone before.
I attended the parade with a friend who had never been to a disability pride event before, or to any event where most of the crowd was disabled. She was stunned and thrilled to see so many people with disabilities in one place, gathered not to try to “fix” or change themselves but to celebrate themselves as they are. For disabled people who don’t have a lot of exposure to disability communities and advocacy, the idea of rejoicing in our differences is new and thrilling. It turns out that we are not broken, and we can fight back against the cultural perception that we are broken. Our disabilities can be like the crack in the Liberty Bell – iconic aspects of ourselves. For many people with disabilities, pride is a space that we do not often inhabit. Seeing each other, celebrating together, makes it easier to boldly go to that place.
Attending a Disability Pride Parade can be a great way to express your identity as a person with a disability. It can also help you to learn more about disability history and help you as you work to become a stronger self-advocate. NCWD/Youth has some other resources that can support these goals including:
- Youth in Action! Becoming a Stronger Self-Advocate
- Youth in Action! Learning Disability History
- The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities
- The 411 on Disability Disclosure Video Companion
By Zoe Gross, Senior, Vassar College, Patricia Morrissey Disability Policy Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development