July 14, 2016 / by Danny Perry, Director of Community Engagement
Building on “ADA25NYC,” last year’s celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 2016 Disability Pride NYC Parade took place on Sunday, July 10, with thousands of people with disabilities and their family members and supporters marching up Broadway from Union Square to Madison Square Park while spectators on the sidelines waved and cheered.
The event was hosted by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD). Independence Care System (ICS), a supporting partner, had a strong presence with approximately 70 members and about a dozen staff members taking part.
Dignitaries from state and city government gathered on the stage at Union Square leading into the parade kick-off, with MOPD Commissioner Victor Calise welcoming and firing up the crowd. Commissioner Calise introduced Deputy Mayor Richard Buery Jr., who spoke about efforts to make New York the most accessible city in the world. Buery announced the city’s newly published first annual report, titled AccessibleNYC, which discusses the “state of people with disabilities and interagency plans to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities across the five boroughs.” Through the collaboration of several city agencies, the report’s focus is on enhancing accessibility and inclusion in transportation, education, employment and health, as well as City services, institutions, and resources.
Up next was Ambassador Oh Joon from the Republic of Korea, who shared the parade’s grand marshal title with ICS’s own Marilyn Saviola, senior vice president of Advocacy and the Women’s Health Access Program. Ambassador Oh is president of the United Nation’s Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, of which, Oh noted, the US is not yet a signatory. Calise followed the ambassador’s remarks, saying he hopes the US will someday sign on to the Convention.
Among the other dignitaries on the stage were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Assembly member David Weprin, who is the Chair of the Task Force for People with Disabilities, and City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal. Mike LeDonne and his daughter Mary represented the Disability Pride NYC Parade organization.
A police band led the parade up Broadway, followed by the grand marshals and dignitaries. Close behind were several groups and organizations, including a loud and proud ICS contingent. “Everyone else has opportunities to shine, so we need our shine as well, and this event allows that,” ICS member Trisa Harris stated. “It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m proud!”
Advocacy Is Highlighted
While the ADA created legislation putting into place a framework to protect people with disabilities against discrimination and specific regulations to support their independence, sustained effort from people in the disability community is still needed to see that the law is implemented correctly and enforced.
Speaking at the Madison Square Park stage, Saviola pointed out that people with disabilities don’t have equal access to health care. “How many times have you gone to a doctor’s office and been asked to get on the examining table to be examined or asked to step on a scale to be weighed?” Saviola asked people who use wheelchairs in the audience. She also noted about medical staff, “In some cases they’ll talk to your personal care aide instead of you.”
Saviola went on to explain that change will only come from within the community of people with disabilities. “If we want things to get better, it’s going to have to start with us,” she said. She led the crowd in a rousing chant of the mantra of the national grassroots disability rights organization Not Dead Yet, “Nothing about us without us!”
Saviola encouraged more engagement in the political process, particularly now that it’s an election year. “We need to look at candidates and understand where they stand when it comes to people with disabilities.”
Esteban Santos, an ICS member and Document Management Unit assistant, spoke about the importance of people with disabilities acting as advocates. “We need to unite, and this is a perfect setting to get disability advocates together in order to get meaningful things accomplished,” he said, while noting, “We’ve come a long way but still have a lot more work to do.”
Santos also stressed the need for younger advocates to get involved in support of the great work of longtime disability rights advocates, such as Saviola and Anna Fay, ICS Senior Vice President of Independent Living. “People like Marilyn and Anna have done great work, but we now need to educate younger advocates to support and keep the movement going.”
Convergence on Madison Square Park
At the Madison Square Park location, dozens of vendors and organizations supporting people with disabilities, including ICS, set up shop under tents to connect with parade attendees. In addition to the vendors, attendees enjoyed the sounds of various music, performances, and comedy by performers with disabilities. ICS members represented on the stage included Ms. Wheelchair New York Jessica De La Rosa, who served as an enthusiastic master of ceremonies, and crowd pleasing sit down comic Damon Rozier.
“While our membership is diverse, with over 6,000 members, our roots are connected to the community of people with disabilities,” said Loreen Loonie, Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing. “Being connected to this event, as a partner organization and vendor, fully aligns with our mission and focus on supporting the independence of this population.”