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Buffalo's Disability Pride Festival returns to Canalside

Three people pose together for a photo in front of a large event tent. One person is using a motorized wheelchair and the other two people are sitting on a concrete block.
Emyle Watkins
Sarah Parks, Tyrone Houston and Rayne Daniels hangout outside at the 2022 Disability Pride Festival at Canalside

Thirty-two years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, as he proclaimed “let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

But for Americans with disabilities, Tuesday is about more than the passage of a law that changed our lives 32 years ago. It’s about everyone who fought for our rights – including the Americans who crawled up the one hundred steps of the Capitol Building on March 12, 1990 to highlight our need for the ADA.

It’s also about the advocacy the disability community continues to do to secure and further our rights. And in 2004, the disability community in Chicago began celebrating “Disability Pride” in July for the anniversary of the ADA.

Buffalo is among the cities that now celebrate the month – typically with a parade and festival. After going virtual for two years, Western New York Independent Living brought the gathering to Canalside on Sunday. There was food, music, poetry, an abundance of resources, and most of all, community.

“Everybody was so friendly, said Rayne Daniels. She is an influencer on Instagram, known as “@wheelchair_goddess.”

“The big reason I'm here, it's because I'm physically disabled. And I agree, we do have to make this disabled, our disabled community, louder and stronger. You know, because a lot of us, we do have voices, but they don't get heard, or they don't, they're not loud enough to be overheard by the other news that is in stories and in news today. So I feel like coming out here today is good. And it shows people you know, that people do care about the disabled community, and we do want to do better, we do want better for us.”

She was chatting with fellow attendees Sarah Parks and Tyrone Houston.

“You know what hurts my heart is that the lives of people with disabilities take a backseat to literally everything else," said Houston, who is also known as “Legendary the Poet” and performed at the festival.

Houston, who has cerebral palsy, pointed out that he’s met people who know calculus but haven’t heard of CP, the most common motor disability diagnosed in childhood.

“My struggle doesn't deserve to be invisible. And so maybe one day, we won't need a Disability Pride festival, and we'll just be people," added Houston

His friend Sara Parks also points out “there are so many disabilities that are invisible.” Parks says stigma and stereotypes impact if people are perceived as disabled, adding that she’s experienced it herself.

“I've kept it quiet and hidden. But, you know, I suffer with mental health disabilities," Parks said.

Like Houston, she hopes their experiences will be more visible and accepted.

“A lot of people don't really recognize that there are so many disabilities that people have. So everyone, we all just need to be more mindful. In a perfect world is looking at one another, as we are all individuals. We're all unique. We all have something," said Parks

Houston says for him, Disability Pride is about his journey and experience as a person with CP.

“We're all trying to find our sense of purpose. So I think disability pride for me is not just showing pride, but achieving it. Because for me, it's a journey every day, sometimes I get depressed, and I don't feel too hot. And then other times in the mirror, yeah, I know, I can look in the mirror and say, 'I'm one handsome guy,' I can do that. So it's a daily... It's a letter. Acceptance is the longest letter you're gonna write to yourself. And it's not something that's going to happen overnight," said Houston.

Likewise, Daniels says Disability Pride is about acceptance, "it's being comfortable, being confident enough to go out into the world and live life just as normally as you would as anybody else.”

And not just of ourselves, but within our communities, adding “I want to go into the community and have somebody who isn't disabled look at me and be like, okay, whatever, they're normal, and just act as if it's just normal.”

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.