Making history with the Disability Pride Parade

PRIDEBY MICHAEL SCHWEINSBURG |  As we come together to celebrate the achievements of the L.G.B.T. community this month, get ready to witness the pride of the disability community.

Disability Pride NYC (DPNYC) is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is working with the Mayor’s Office of People With Disabilities to present the First Annual Disability Pride Parade, marching down Broadway, on Sun., July 12.

Our day will start at Madison Square Park, where entertainers and speakers will pump up the excitement before we step off at noon from Fifth Ave. and 26th St. to join former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin in front of the famed Flatiron Building. From there we will proceed down Broadway to Union Square’s north-end plaza. The parade will culminate with a three-hour extravaganza on the big stage, featuring luminaries and exciting performances from musicians, dancers, comedians and other stars of TV, stage and screen, as well as appearances by prominent elected officials. A three-block festival will continue along the park’s western perimeter.

It has been acknowledged that the disability community comprises the largest minority group, yet we are rarely afforded our due respect and recognition. As pleased as we are that presidential campaigns so frequently mention their allegiance with the L.G.B.T. community, we are dismayed that so few make reference to the inequities faced by people with disabilities. Over the next few years, we intend to change that and propel disability rights issues to the forefront. Already, we have achieved not only recognition but the full cooperation and partnership of the current administration here in New York City through the Mayor’s Office of People With Disabilities and our outstanding commissioner, Victor Calise.

From right, Michael Schweinsburg, director of Disability Pride NYC; Luis Motalvan and his service dog, Tuesday; and Edith Prentiss, president of 504 Democratic Club and a DPNYC committee member, at a protest on Montalvan’s behalf. A decorated Iraq War veteran, Montalvan was reportedly physically assaulted — with a garbage can lid — by a McDonald’s employee after entering one of the chain’s restaurants with Tuesday.

From right, Michael Schweinsburg, director of Disability Pride NYC; Luis Motalvan and his service dog, Tuesday; and Edith Prentiss, president of 504 Democratic Club and a DPNYC committee member, at a protest on Montalvan’s behalf. A decorated Iraq War veteran, Montalvan was reportedly physically assaulted — with a garbage can lid — by a McDonald’s employee after entering one of the chain’s restaurants with Tuesday.

This year, together with M.O.P.D., we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which is the codification of our civil rights. Senator Harkin was the author of the final bill that became the A.D.A. law and will serve as a grand marshal. Our parade will be a centerpiece of a month-long series of events, being organized through M.O.P.D. to celebrate this important anniversary. There will be museum exhibits, lectures, sports and recreational activities, the bus from the cross-country A.D.A. Legacy Tour, and performances and other activities throughout the five boroughs. Visit www.nyc.gov/ada25nyc for more details on all the events.

The parades’ goals are to instill or reinforce pride among all members of the disability community, including caregivers, family, friends, supporters and allies; to change the public perception of people with disabilities; and to tear down the silos that segment our community.

DPNYC was founded nearly four years ago by Mike LeDonne, an accomplished jazz musician who has a daughter with multiple disabilities. While walking her to school four years ago, when she was a first grader, he rightfully became increasingly annoyed that other parents would allow their children to turn around and point and gawk at young Mary. He wondered how those parents could display such a blatant form of discrimination.

He had never really engaged with the broader disability community. Indeed, he wasn’t aware we were so strong in number. He remembers thinking that so many heritage groups enjoyed parades and celebrations of their culture, but that the disability community had not achieved that status.

So he set about to change that. He worked at it for years, and last year a committee was formed, and together we began to make remarkable progress.

Mike worked for months to organize a benefit concert for the parade and wound up creating what has been referred to as “The Woodstock of Jazz.” This Jan. 8, in the acoustically perfect E. 15th St. meeting hall of the Religious Society of Friends, 16 jazz greats came together for the “Jazz Legends for Disability Pride” event. The all-star roster included Ron Carter, Benny Golson, Brad Mehldau, Jimmy Cobb, Harold Mabern, George Coleman, Bill Charlap, Buster Williams, Russell Malone, Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein, Renee Rosnes, Joe Farnsworth, Kenny Washington, John Webber and, of course, Mike himself.

To ensure that this milestone event truly reflects our community’s diversity, we have been convening outreach and planning meetings citywide since January.

So, come join us on July 12, and be a part of history. On full display will be the beauty and dignity of difference, a celebration of diversity and a grand statement of pride.

To get involved, please visit our Web site, www.disabilitypridenyc.com , to register to march, to volunteer or to learn more. Or write to me at [email protected] .

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