‘You have incredible power’: Disability Pride Lehigh Valley celebrates community through art, music
UPPER SAUCON TWP., Pa. — Amy Beck was 17 when she learned about her disability, she said Saturday, 10 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law.
During that decade, she experienced blatant discrimination, she said.
- The first Disability Pride Lehigh Valley festival was held Saturday at Penn State — Lehigh Valley campus
- The event includes live music, food trucks and community resources
- Organizers highlighted the significant gains, but also the changes still needed, to achieve equity for all
“But I had little recourse,” said Beck, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living. “Many of you were born after 1990 and you are fortunate to have always known the protection of the ADA. I caution you to be aware of the incredible battle that got the ADA and related legislation passed. Tireless advocates formed human chains around buses to demand change in public transportation.
“Others stayed for days in government buildings, and some slid out of their wheelchairs and crawled up the steps of our nation's capital to help bring the ADA to fruition,” Beck said. “Our forefathers and foremothers took enormous personal risks to give us our civil rights. Please learn our proud history and pass it on.”
Beck was the keynote speaker Saturday during the first Disability Pride Lehigh Valley festival, a free, all-ages celebration of the region’s disability community through art, music and community resources. Held at the Penn State — Lehigh Valley campus, the event, led byLehigh Valley Arts & Cultural Alliance in partnership with Disability Pride PA, highlighted the significant gains, but also the changes still needed, to achieve equity for all.
“This afternoon is all about celebrating and embracing the diverse abilities within our community,” said Jacqui Schwartz, arts and accessibility manager of LVACA. “Let’s have a blast, make new connections and make lasting memories.”
An upcoming anniversary
Wednesday marks the 33rd anniversary of the ADA, a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Signed by President George H. W. Bush, the law applies to employers, state and local governments, businesses that are open to the public, commercial facilities, transportation providers and telecommunication companies.
More than 2.7 million Pennsylvania residents have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s 26% of the population, meaning about one in four adults has a disability.
While the ADA is a foundational protection for residents with disabilities across the U.S., inequity is still prevalent, from widespread stigmas to systemic obstacles, especially for those who are not only marginalized by their disability, but also by their race, gender identity or sexual orientation, advocates say.
In the last two decades, the disability justice movement has focused on these intersections.
“Disability Justice builds on the disability rights movement, taking a more comprehensive approach to help secure rights for disabled people by recognizing the intersectionality of disabled people who belong to additional marginalized communities,” according to theWorld Institute on Disabilities.
‘Loud and clear’
Among the resources, vendors and food trucks at the festival was a table for Parisian Phoenix Publishing. Founded by Angel R. Ackerman, the Valley-based publisher focused on books written with unique voices and from diverse perspectives. Contributors were slated to read from a recent release, “Not an Able-Bodied White Man with Money.”
“This is really exciting for me to see,” said Ackerman as the venue started to fill. She explained how growing up, she learned to pass. “To learn, even as an adult, that it’s OK to be different.”
A similar message came from the Free Mom Hugs booth. There, volunteers gave out free hugs to anyone interested.
“We believe that every person deserves love and their innate dignity. And we’re here to make sure that message is heard loud and clear.”Laurie Dzurko, a co-leader of Free Mom Hugs-Pennsylvania
“We believe that every person deserves love and their innate dignity,” said Laurie Dzurko, one of the co-leaders of Free Mom Hugs-Pennsylvania. “And we’re here to make sure that message is heard loud and clear.”
Like Ackerman, Rich Davis also has an invisible disability. He wore a sandwich board sign that read, “I am a Qualified Individual With an Invisible Disability,” the letters QIWID highlighted.
It’s a word he made up, said Davis, who describes himself as neurodivergent, or having a brain that works differently. He founded Comfort Career Connections, a business that helps match individuals with disabilities to careers they’d not only excel at, but enjoy.
“My goal is to grow my consulting business and help employers,” Davis said. “If I could connect them to the qiwid talent - I want to make those connections.”
While looking at how far the community has come, there’s still work to be done, Beck said. And the community has the voting power to accomplish it.
“People with disabilities have incredible power. You have incredible power,” Beck said. “People with disabilities are the single largest minority group.
“If we voted collectively, we could change elections. Please make sure that you are registered to vote.”