New Yorkers with disabilities and their allies took to the streets for the city’s annual Disability Pride Parade on July 9, 2017, aiming to increase the visibility of New York City’s disability community.
Micah Fowler, an actor with cerebral palsy who plays J.J. Dimeo on the ABC comedy series Speechless, headed a procession of an estimated 7,000 people as the parade’s grand marshal. Fowler led a parade route through the heart of Manhattan, beginning in Union Square Park and traveling up Broadway to Madison Square Park. A street festival featuring a variety of performers with disabilities concluded the parade.
“Inclusion, awareness and visibility are still things we must fight and advocate for relentlessly — so I was incredibly honored to be the grand marshal in NYC’s 2017 Disability Pride Parade, to lead the way as this community of individuals proudly united as one, marched together to celebrate our differences and our challenges and to bring disability awareness to others, knowing that with every small step, we are making a big difference!” wrote Fowler in an exclusive statement to New Mobility via email.
A partnership between Disability Pride NYC and the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, this incarnation of the Disability Pride Parade began as the idea of world-renowned jazz pianist Mike LeDonne, whose daughter has a developmental disability. He wondered why there wasn’t a pride march for people with disabilities when other minorities already had them. LeDonne eventually discovered that disability pride marches did exist in other cities like Chicago, but as there hadn’t been one in New York since the early ‘90s, he decided to start one.
LeDonne’s first Disability Pride Parade was held on July 12, 2015, the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retired Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who co-sponsored the law, presided as the grand marshal of that inaugural parade. At the time, 3,000 people attended to march, with numbers swelling each subsequent year.
“People refer to New York City all the time as the greatest city in the world and when we make noise and we show that we’re proud of who we are, the rest of the country takes notice,” says Victor Calise, commissioner at the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, who uses a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury. “We’re here, we’re not going anywhere and we’re going to make the change that we need to.”