Disability Pride Fast Becoming Genuine Cause for
By Kathi Wolfe
Growing up, Sarah Triano was ashamed of having a primary
immune system disability. I tried to overcome my disability, to pass (as
non-disabled), until my mom made me attend a California leadership forum for
youth with disabilities, said Triano, who also has a mental health
Today, Triano, 37, executive
director of the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, is glad that her
mother insisted that she take part in that forum in 1992. There, I was
introduced to role models in the independent living movement, recalled
Triano in a telephone interview with Independence Today, and developed a
sense of dignity and pride about myself and my disabilities.
During the next decade, Triano became the mother of what
is now a burgeoning disability pride movement. In 2002, as a youth team leader
with Access Living, a Chicago independent living center, she worked to recruit
young people for a leadership program for youth with disabilities. We
found that they were ashamed of their disabilities -- that the youth tried to
avoid contact with people with disabilities.
From this experience, Triano said she realized that
one of the biggest problems that people with disabilities have is not
being proud of a fundamental part of who they are.
If you have a disability, youre not taught in
schools, in your church or the media to be proud of yourself, Triano said.
You dont learn that disability is a natural
and beautiful part of human diversity. The African-American civil rights
movement couldnt have been what it was if black people had been ashamed
to be black.
In 2003, Triano received the Paul G. Hearne Leadership
award from the American Association of People with Disabilities. She used the
$10,000 that came with the prize as seed money to fund the inaugural Disability
Pride Parade, which was held in Chicago in 2004. The event succeeded beyond
Trianos wildest dreams. We were hoping 500 people would come,
she said. We had fifteen hundred people! We celebrated who we were and
our shared history.
Janice Fialka and her son, who has a disability, were
among those at the parade. In a poem titled From Puddles to Pride,
Fialka wrote about the parade: On this street there are wheels
rolling/lovely legs limping/ clenched fists raised high/ in the cloud-studded
blue sky/,Our son, Micha/ whose label is not a source of shame to him/ who
says...I meet the best people in the world.
In addition to Chicago, where parades have
occurred annually, disability pride parades and ceremonies will be held this
year in Philadelphia; Trenton, N.J.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Mountain View,
Calif.; and other cities in the United States, as well as in Norway, Ireland,
Canada and other countries.
Curtis Cole, who has arthritis and glaucoma, is the
executive director of the National Emancipation Association Inc., a Texas group
that promotes the hiring of people with physical and mental disabilities.
Every year, we have a Juneteenth freedom festival and parade, Cole
said in a telephone interview. Disabled people said, Why cant
there be a parade for us? We can enjoy it. Well rock in our
chairs. Organizers hope to hold a disability pride parade in
Houston in 2013, Cole said.
Most disability pride festivities are held in July in
connection with the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There
are a few exceptions. The New Jersey Disability Pride Parade will take place
The first Philadelphia Pride event will be observed on
July 28th. The festivities will include ceremonies at the National Constitution
Center and a march to the Liberty Bell. During a special ceremony, the
wheelchair that the late disability rights leader Justin Dart Jr. used when the
ADA was signed into law will be unveiled. At the signing, Dart was flanked by
then- President George H.W. Bush. Yoshiko Dart, Darts widow, and Janine
Bertram, widow of the late disability rights Evan Kemp Jr., will speak, and the
photography of disability rights movement photographers Tom Olin and Harvey
Finkle will be featured in an exhibition.
Having 'Pride' in Philly, where theres so
much history, is especially significant, Bertram, a disability advocate
and writer, said in a telephone chat. It celebrates us as part of our
Bertram, who noted the depressed economy and the fact
that many services for people with disabilities are being cut, said,
"Theres so much that we need to protest that its important for us
to celebrate and affirm who we are.
Everybody either has a disability or has a family member
or friend with a disability, Yoshiko Dart said in a telephone conversation,
yet in our consciousness is this feeling that disability is something
awful to be ashamed of.
Pride events help people realize what her late husband
always said, that disability is a natural characteristic of being
human, Yoshiko Dart said.
The Alliance Center for Independence decided to hold its
first New Jersey Disability Pride Parade in 2011 after the organization took
two members of its young adult group to a conference, said the groups
executive director Carole Tonks. There, they saw a video of the Chicago
Disability Pride Parade, she said. The young men said,
Wouldnt it be great if we had one?
There was no political agenda, Tonks said. It was
just like Italian Americans or any other group celebrating who they are. My
27-year-old son has autism. As his mom, I was proud to see him celebrate.
Colorado Springs, Colo. held its first Disability Pride
Parade in March 2012 as part of that citys St. Patricks Day Parade.
Seventy people with disabilities and their supporters marched as a group,
Patricia Yeager, CEO of the Independence Center in Colorado Springs, wrote in
an email. It was the most fabulous thing
people who look, walk,
talk and see differently being cheered for being ourselves, she wrote.
Talk about a kick in the pants and being a part of the community for a
group who often doesnt feel like a part of the community.
Byl Adam is a member of the Disability
Pride Parade Planning Committee in Chicago. In 2010, Adam, a preschool teacher,
was a volunteer at the pride parade. It was really nice! Kids with and
without disabilities were there playing, dancing, doing crafts, he
said in a phone conversation.
He noted that is "incredible to see how hard people work"
to make pride parades happen. You have to fund-raise, get permits,
arrange for Porta Potties. But it means so much to so many people. I dont
have a disability yet, said Adam, who considers himself an ally of the
disability community, but everyone has a right to have pride in
Our disabilities are only part of who we are, said Susan
Aarup, a member of the Disability Pride Parade planning committee for Chicago,
which set its event for July 21st. My disability doesnt define who
I am, said Aarup, who has cerebral palsy. Its not so much
pride in our disabilities as pride in who we are as whole human beings.
disability pride festivities is a healing process, said Johnny Crescendo, a
musician, Adapt member, and one of the upcoming Philadelphia Pride event
As Crescendos song Pride says:
Prides the key that unlocks the doors/ to the rooms where we
belong./ Pride is our destiny and where we all came from/Turn around, embrace
For more information, go to: www.svilc.org,
Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. She is a contributor
to the anthology "Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability."