Editor’s Note: When Vicki Landers, a person with a disability with bipolar disorder, became involved with Philadelphia’s Center for Independent Living, it led to her discovery of an accessible art studio in the city that she began spending time at regularly. There, she was asked to help create posters for the Disability Pride Parade and enjoyed the movement so much that several years later, she now heads the organization as president. Wheel:Life chatted with Landers about the work Disability Pride Philadelphia Inc. is doing on the local and state level and the event they hold annually in observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
This will be our third annual event celebrating International Persons with Disabilities Day. On December 3, 2019, we will be at the Philadelphia Film Center. We’ll have food, a cash bar, a DJ, and photo ops. It's a chance for organizations to get on stage and tell us about something exciting they did this year or events they have coming up. The groups can give out postcards with information on their organization. We will also have door prizes donated by various businesses in Philadelphia. Celebrating our past and future is the theme for this year.
Every summer, we hold Disability Pride week. We choose to celebrate in June to commemorate the Olmstead decision, a very important piece of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the ADA, we decided to extend our usual week to 30 days of events leading up to the date the legislation was signed, July 26. It will kick off with the Disability Pride Parade on June 27. We partnered with the National Constitution Center, and they will be holding an ADA celebration where they’ll display the Justin Dart wheelchair. Dart was a very important person involved in the politics of the ADA and was present with President George H.W. Bush at the signing. When Dart passed away, the NCC received permission to display his chair, and it’s still there to this day.
One of the things that we pride ourselves on is that our parade is run by a committee of disabled folks with our allies at the table as well. A lot of other marches are organized by their respective city governments, and they don't necessarily include people with disabilities in the planning. In Philadelphia, disabled people are making the decisions, and the money we raise goes back to our organization to fund more events throughout the year.
I love the community. I love Philadelphia.
I love what the Disability Pride Parade does to bring us together to celebrate ourselves and all of our disabilities.
We are trying to spread Disability Pride throughout the state of Pennsylvania. In 2020, not only are we hosting the Disability Pride Philadelphia events, but we're also putting on the first annual Disability Pride Central Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is very different than Central PA, so I asked disabled residents and allies in that area to form a committee to organize the event. It will be held at the Pennsylvania Capitol Complex in Harrisburg on October 3, 2020. We picked that date because, over the last two years, we have been asking for Governor Wolf to proclaim October as Disability Action Month. People talk about disability employment awareness in October, but we find that it's not inclusive, so we’re pushing for a disability action month.
People with disabilities have been around since the beginning of time, and awareness just doesn't cut it anymore.
We want people to start taking a positive step into the world of inclusion.
We’re proud to say that this year, Governor Wolf proclaimed October as Disability Action Month. Our way of making sure that this stays on his agenda is to hold our Central PA event at the beginning of October, so he can come out and proclaim that Disability Action Month has started.
It’ll become part of Pennsylvania history, and we will be the first state to celebrate Disability Action Month.
This past October, we found several organizations that were holding events focused on disability, and we put up a calendar on a Facebook page. Next year, we’d like to see more events happening all over the state, and we'll give the list to the governor to promote and encourage other cities to step up and have those conversations as well.
I believe we should be talking about disability history and adding it to school curriculums. Allan Holdsworth, who runs Disability Equality in Education, is going around to Pennsylvania schools and colleges and not asking them to have a disability class but to integrate our history into the courses that they already teach.
In general, we learn about two people with disabilities in U.S. History classes — Helen Keller and Franklin D. Roosevelt. We learn about the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, and other movements of marginalized groups, but we’re not told about the disabled movement.
Our history is as important as everybody else's, so why are we being left out?
If we integrated it into our education, it could completely change society’s perception of disability and inclusion.
By advocating for ourselves and what we believe in, the things we want and need become apparent and important to the rest of the world. For example, presidential candidates have never talked about disability in the past. However, this year, there are five or six candidates who have come out with a disability platform, and they're talking to disabled folks about what the policies should look like.
You learn how to be proud of yourself by advocating for yourself, and you get to have a voice in how your future is going to be set.
On the local level, you can advocate for things that need to be changed in your city. Then, you do it again at the state and federal level. I've been blessed this year to have joined the United Spinal Association. I've always been an advocate, but I am now a super advocate because they fully embrace advocacy, empowerment, and independence. I went to an event they hold every year called Roll On Capitol Hill, and it was life-changing. It was so impactful, and I came home jazzed and driven to continue the fight for disability rights.
All information in this article was obtained through an interview with Vicki Landers. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
About the Author
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background that includes experience in marketing research, business operations, travel and culinary writing, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also enjoys a good vegan brunch, practices parkour, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!