(NBC4 New York - video)
Cheering and chanting with signs held high, New Yorkers rolled, motored and marched down Broadway on Sunday in the city’s first Disability Pride parade.
It has been a busy month for city parades. Two weeks ago, the annual Gay Pride parade came on the heels of the Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision, and on Friday a ticker-tape parade honored the U.S. women’s soccer team.
While Sunday’s parade, which attracted about 3,000 people, was relatively small, disabled people and their advocates said the event was a public celebration for a community that often remains hidden and invisible.
Disability pride parades have been held in cities including Philadelphia and Chicago, and city officials said that the New York parade will be an annual event. About 800,000 New Yorkers are disabled, according to advocacy group Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York.
On Sunday morning, the hip-hop duo 4 Wheel City, both of whom use wheelchairs due to gun-violence injuries, warmed up the crowd.
“We say four, you say wheels,” they rapped from a stage in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park.
“Four!” one yelled.
“Wheels!” responded the crowd.
After remarks from Mayor Bill de Blasio and other public officials, the parade traveled down Broadway, with former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, who sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act, serving as grand marshal.
|Christina Eisenberg, Joe Slaninka and Jessica Lopez—all from the Viscardi Center—participate in Sunday’s parade. |
“She is so proud to have a group to identify with,” said Jane Wallace. “It never occurred to her there would be a parade in her honor.”
Sophie, 22, has developmental disabilities and is bipolar, her mother said, but she has a life: She rides the subway, has friends and works at an animal shelter.
Seeing people with various disabilities gathered together was unusual, said Alex Elegudin, president of advocacy group Wheeling Forward. “The is probably the only place you ever see every facet of the community come together,” said Mr. Elegudin, 31, who has a spinal-cord injury from a car accident. “We’re often divided by diagnosis.”
“If you love the ADA, clap your hands,” sang students and others, to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” on a balloon-adorned, City University of New York float.
While the atmosphere was largely celebratory, those in the parade said problems remain, particularly surrounding employment, housing, discrimination and accessibility.
“We’re going through a big fight in transporting folks to schools,” said Johnnie Stevens, whose 12-year-old son has autism.
On one stretch of Broadway, friends Kathleen Downes and Nick Holzthum, both of whom use wheelchairs, took a break from the parade.
“Generally speaking, people with disabilities tend to be underrepresented in diversity initiatives, and it’s exciting to see our community celebrated,” said the 22-year-old Ms. Downes, an incoming graduate student at Adelphi University who has cerebral palsy.
The parade arrived at a slightly transformed Union Square: The number of wheelchair-accessible portable toilets was roughly equal to the number of conventional ones, and sign-language interpreters were widespread.
Victor Calise, commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, wheeled around the square grinning and offering high-fives, including toMaximus Wong, a member of the sled-hockey team that Mr. Calise coaches.
Asked about his favorite part of the parade, 7-year-old Maximus didn’t mention disabilities.
“I like waving to people and saying hi,” said Maximus, sitting in a wheelchair with his little sister in his lap. “I’m excited.”