On Dec. 2, the eve of the 30th annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities, disabled activists and artists and allies, organized and led by Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST), rocked Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at the United Nations in New York City.
They demonstrated in-person with a political and musical hybrid event, demanding the rights and benefits guaranteed to children and adults with disabilities by human rights treaties, which the U.S. still refuses to ratify. These are the Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Conventions on the Rights of the Child.
The rally endorsed PIST’s campaign to put a Schoolbus Bill of Rights on the city election ballot, so disabled students and their peers will have the same access to education. As of Oct. 31, some 500 New York City students are not receiving the yellow school bus service they are entitled to. Lack of reliable transportation has caused thousands more to miss hours and days of school.
Activists spoke between songs played by Harlem-based DJ CrystalClear, while ASL interpreters signed.
Sara Catalinotto, co-founder of PIST, introduced Monica Roman of PIST, who shared that her own disabled daughter’s school bus is often late. Roman held a yellow placard with work by Rebecca Freimuth, a blind photographer in Ohio, who has said: “I want people to see the reality of our culture and society. . . . I want you to pause for just a moment and take in the world around you. Pictures speak a thousand words, and I want people to hear the voices of the forgotten.”
Edward M. Yood of Communications Workers Local 1180 pointed out that workers throughout the U.S., 90% of whom are not in unions, are increasingly vulnerable to becoming disabled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yood is Chair of Local 1180’s Committee on People with Disabilities and of the Disability Pride NYC Parade’s Outreach Committee.
Yood reported that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in New York state is a whopping 67%. This fact constitutes a broken promise, violating the Second Bill of Rights proposed by disabled President Franklin Roosevelt in his 1944 State of the Union Message, which had advocated full employment throughout the U.S.
Yood demanded that President Joe Biden lawfully bypass the Senate and ratify the Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities immediately by issuing an Executive Order. Then by a second Executive Order, Biden should extend all of its protections to the Americans with Disabilities Act, thus keeping the promise he made in his 2020 election victory declaration speech to folks with disabilities.
Robert Acevedo of Disabled in Action next addressed the rally. Acevedo is a veteran of many protests for elevator access in the city’s subways. More than three-quarters of elevators are not accessible for people with mobility and other disabilities.
Elias Ellis, a City University of New York student, spoke as the sibling of a city schools District 75 school bus rider, who attends a specialized high school program. Ellis pointed out that the entire family is thrown off physically, mentally and financially when the bus does not arrive by 9:00 a.m., or later due to the shortage of full-time and substitute drivers. (See the short film “School Bus Bill of Rights, tinyurl.com/29v8cx2j.)
Lupe Hernandez, aka DJ Karamel, an education equity activist, online-party organizer and mother of a former school bus rider, explained to the in-person and online audience how to tune in to the online celebration. For the next 12 hours, supportive DJs from around the world sharied their music mixes online. (For the photos and music, see tinyurl.com/37fp8nkp.)
A report by a participant in this event was featured at the Dec. 11 Disability Justice and Rights Caucus of Workers World Party. The next public zoom meeting of the 2nd Sunday Dialogue will be Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, at 7:00 p.m. Contact [email protected] for more information.