Inaugural Disability Pride Festival March 25 is for and by people with disabilities

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TIM & SELENA MIDDLETON/CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0
  • TIM & SELENA MIDDLETON/CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0

New Orleans often has lagged behind other cities when it comes to anticipating and accommodating the needs of people with disabilities. In more recent incidents, bus stops failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and a renovation to New Orleans Public Library's Nix branch overlooked a ramp for for people who use wheelchairs.

But a new festival has the potential to shine a greater light on people with disabilities, who make up as much as 19 percent of the American population. At Saturday's all-ages Disability Pride Festival, people with disabilities, their friends, families and allies will gather for New Orleans' first celebration of disability pride — a key aspect of the growing disability rights movement.

The festival is divided into two parts. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Advocacy Center of Louisiana (8325 Oak St.), there's a resource fair featuring food, art and social service vendors. Afternoon entertainment follows and includes performances from Irwin Royes (the "world's smallest magician") and an exhibition game from the Rollin' Pelicans wheelchair basketball team. Events are designed to help community members connect and encourage conversations about what it means to be a person with disabilities.

"A lot of times people think of disability as a hindrance or a negative or something that needs to be fixed, but we really want to flip the script and talk about celebrating disability as an identity," festival volunteer and outreach coordinator Timothy K. Craft says.

Social services organization Advocacy Center of Louisiana hosts the fest, but it was largely planned by The Quirky Citizens Alliance, a community organization and safe space comprising people with disabilities and neurodiversities (a term some people use to identify with the autism spectrum and other conditions).

Quirky Citizens Alliance founder and festival co-founder Jane Rhea Vernier is what's called a "self-advocate," or a person directly affected by disability rights issues. In a statement announcing the festival, she describes herself as "Autistic, with a capital 'A.' That capital letter makes 'Autistic' a term of pride instead of a medical model saying there is something wrong."

Craft says it's important for allies, such as himself, to step back and listen to the voices of such self-advocates when doing disability rights work.

"Self-advocacy is really about understanding that people with disabilities know their lives, they know their experiences, they know what their needs are, and they know how to meet them," he says. "There are so many voices out there of people with disabilities speaking their stories. All you have to do is look for it and listen."

LGBTQ people and people of color are especially welcome at the festival, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. There's a quiet room for people who have trouble with sensory overload. It's free to attend, but food, drinks and T-shirts will be sold on a cash-only basis.


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