New Orleans disability pride fest part of a growing trend




NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans' newest festival, the Disability Pride Festival , grew from a comment on the internet suggesting that it's easy to get spur-of-the-moment festivals going but hard to get people to the capital to advocate for disabled people.

To that, Jane Rhea Vernier responded: "Maybe we need to throw a festival or a parade ourselves."

She'd been thinking for years about a disabilities event of some kind before she began work toward the festival scheduled March 25 at the Advocacy Center , a legal aid nonprofit for disabled and older people.

The day will be "about us being with each other, being together," said Vernier, who describes herself as "Autistic — with a capital A." That capital letter makes "Autistic" a term of pride instead of "a medical model saying there's something wrong," she said.

There will be more than 30 information and vending tables, but the festival's focus will be "us being with each other, being together" — in a place where there's also a quiet retreat for those who are prone to sensory overload.

Entertainment — including music, "the world's smallest magician" and a wheelchair basketball demonstration — is reserved for the afternoon, to keep the sound and visual levels down for the first few hours, she said.

Disability pride festivals and parades have been growing nationwide since 1990, when a parade in Boston celebrated that year's passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Chicago, which claims the nation's oldest annual Disability Pride Parade , is planning its 14th ; Nacogdoches, Texas, its fifth; and Philadelphia, its sixth. Madison, Wisconsin, is planning its fifth consecutive festival to celebrate disability pride; Los Angeles is working on its second festival and parade.

"Personally I think it's a really true growth movement," said Alan Larson, an associate professor at Stephen F. Austin State University and the force behind Nacogdoches' parade .

"More medium-sized towns are beginning to recognize it," he said. "All it takes is a cluster of people with disabilities to realize we have worth and it's worth marching down the street for."

In Philadelphia, about 500 people participate in the march and a total of 4,000 participants and spectators show up, said Disability Pride Philadelphia organizer Alan Holdsworth, who is also known as singer-songwriter Johnny Crescendo.

"It's a lot of fun," he said.

Vernier, who created a club called the Quirky Citizens Alliance , said her festival thoughts began taking form after she attended an Advocacy Center program to teach self-advocacy .

"I said it would be a big undertaking to put together a Disability Pride Festival, but something really important," she said.

Pamela Fisher, Advocacy Center spokeswoman and festival co-founder, loved the idea.

"There hasn't ever been a Disability Pride Day or festival or anything of the sort in the New Orleans area, and we thought it was high time there was one," she said.
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