People with disabilities say ‘Our struggle is not over’

“We are proud of who we are” and “Our struggle is not over” were the main themes here on July 12 as some 5,000 to 7,000 people with disabilities, their advocacy organizations, families and allies took to the streets in a lively march celebrating disability pride.

The event was called by Disability Pride NYC, a nonprofit group working with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is the most comprehensive piece of legislation to date to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. Similar activities have been called in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, according to media reports.

As important as the ADA has been, signs and banners pointed out that people with disabilities are still stigmatized and discriminated against.

People marched or rolled in wheelchairs behind banners of advocacy and the many groups that provide services to people with disability. Trade unions, parent support groups, student groups, activist organizations and individuals also participated in the parade and staffed festival tables. A group brought the banner of the United Nations Convention on People with Disabilities, which the U.S. has yet to ratify.

Many trade unions have consistently fought for the rights of their members and others with disabilities. Among them were Communication Workers Local 1180, the Sanitation Workers and municipal workers District Council 37 AFSCME.

Parents to Improve School Transportation, which seeks to shorten routes and upgrade conditions on school buses, was joined by school bus drivers and attendants in the leadership of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181. They leafleted about their mutual need for job security for experienced, trained bus workers to support safety for the children, many of whom have disabilities.

Groups active on a broad range of social issues formed a lively contingent behind a banner reading “Support Disabled Liberation.” Members of the May 1 Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights carried signs saying “Solidarity with migrant workers disabled by forced immigration.”

A People’s Power Assembly sign read: “Half of all people killed by police have a disability. End racist police terror.” A Workers World Party sign demanded: “$15 minimum wage for all, including people with disabilities.”

Many individuals came with their own signs, some looking for groups to march with. Jessica Delarosa, who commuted in a wheelchair with her dog Mayin, said it was ‘important for people without disabilities to see our pride and how like everyone else we are.” Another young woman added, “Society puts us down, but this makes us more determined.”

Other signs pointed to inequities in hiring for deaf people, social stigmatization of people with disabilities, inadequate housing and discrimination in health care. Many signs pointed to the lack of access. Other signs read: “Our lives matter,” “Think people first, disability second” and “My ability is much stronger than my disability.”

A leaflet distributed by Workers World Party entitled “The disability rights movement won the ADA! Let’s fight to get it enforced, expanded and funded” caught the mood of many here. Workers World called the ADA “not a guarantee,” but “a tool we can use to fight for our rights.” Let’s “celebrate our militancy. …. When we raise our demands the government cries ‘poverty.’ But it has all the money to meet our social and economic needs. We say stop subsidizing Wall Street banks, wars of conquest abroad and the bloated prison-industrial complex.”