Sunday, July 25, 2010

San Jose, Calif,, hosts first annual West Coast Disability Pride Parade

From the San Jose Mercury News. The parade was organized by the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center and Zona Roberts (pictured), mother of independent living founder Ed Roberts, served as grand marshal.

"Say it loud,

We're disabled, and we're proud."

As marchers neared the balloons and white awnings outside the Silicon Valley Center for Independent Living on Saturday, shouts and cheers competed to be heard.

Red faces dripped sweat, smiles shimmered all through the crowd.

Hundreds of people marched in San Jose's first ever West Coast Disability Pride Parade on North First Street, spreading out along a one-mile section of road closed to traffic. The event was to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and to encourage the disabled to fight for the rights the law promised.

"This landmark piece of legislation says you can't discriminate against me because I have a disability," Sarah Triano, executive director of the Independent Living Center, told the enthusiastic crowd at the completion of the parade. "Sorry doesn't cut it, folks. Access is our civil right."

Marchers were treated to a festival at the end of their walk, with a center stage for speakers, box lunches and live music, including a unique song by Triano, a self-described "crip hip-hop artist" in her spare time. Participants also were treated to a tour of the center's new location at 2202 N. First St.

Throughout the march and the festival, seeing-eye dogs mingled with hearing dogs, wheelchair and scooter riding marchers mixed with able-bodied people and little people sat or stood alongside taller people.

"Just as black is beautiful, disabled is beautiful and don't let anyone tell you otherwise," Triano said. "As long as people with disabilities remain ashamed of who we are, we will never be free."

Many people there had a personal story about discrimination — someone who laughed and stared at them, the many times others assumed they had very low IQs. It doesn't hurt as much as it used to, they said, but they stressed it's time for people to accept them.

"Sometimes people raise their voice as if I'm deaf," said Juliet Ramian, 62, of San Jose. "Or they pat me on the head as if I'm" mentally incompetent.

That's why Ramian always carries a special document in the back of her wheelchair — a copy of her diploma from San Jose State University, where she received her master's degree in instructional technology. She loves to show it to people who assume things they shouldn't. Ramian also might switch to one of the five languages she's fluent in when she has a rude encounter of the ignorant kind.

Her friend, Bitten Yearout, 71, of San Jose was stricken with multiple sclerosis in her mid-30s and now suffers from severe arthritis. She said she's had better luck with strangers and finds most people are "very friendly and helpful."

Marching in the parade, though, made her feel "good and very, very proud."

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, we are proud to let it show," the crowd cheered. "We're here, we're loud, we're disabled and we're proud."

More than anything, "We're no different than anybody else," said Michele Figone, a little person from Sunnyvale who was there with her husband and "normal size" son.

"We have the same hopes and dreams and wants," she said. "We're trying to teach our son the world would be a very boring place if everybody were the same."

They've done a good job.

If her son sees anyone pointing or laughing at his little people parents, "He'll say, 'Don't do that. My Mommy and Daddy are special. God made my Mommy and Daddy that way.' "