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Disability Pride PA: Making Pennsylvania Disability Proud

Photo courtesy Disability Pride PA
Photo courtesy Disability Pride PA

Disability Pride PA is a statewide nonprofit, founded in Philadelphia, with the mission of amplifying diverse voices within the community while highlighting and encouraging those who are disabled to feel pride in themselves.

Vicki Landers
Vicki Landers

We spoke with Vicki Landers, founder and executive director, about the impetus behind the organization and its goals.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): What are the organization’s origins?

Vicki Landers (Landers): It was this little group of disabled folks who, in 2012, wanted to have a disability pride event in Philadelphia. Alan Holdsworth, a disability activist, started the entire thing, and when he stepped away to do something else, he left it in my hands. We became a nonprofit five years ago, so that we could spread our work out across the state, not just in Philly. Our ultimate goal is to make Pennsylvania ‘disability proud.’

NHM: Was there an unmet need for a nonprofit like this?

Landers: Most of the time, the disability organizations were helping with services and to provide basic needs. There needed to be something fun and someplace where we could be proud of ourselves. We wanted to bring our community together to show each other how proud we can be as a community.

NHM: How do you define ‘disability’ in this context?

Landers: It’s so diverse. I feel like disability touches everybody at some point in time. It is so multifaceted that it is hard to really say what it is because it’s not limited to a wheelchair or someone with a physical disability. There are so many layers of disability, and there are so many people under that umbrella, like someone who has ADHD all the way to someone who has MS. There’s this whole breadth of disability.

NHM: Is ‘disability’ still an appropriate word in our lexicon, and if so, what is your argument for that word being ok?

Landers: There have been a lot of terms, most of them are terms that other people use. Disability was always built around it being a bad word, and what we are doing is taking the word back. It is part of our identity. It doesn’t make us ‘less than;’ we just have to do things differently. We’re saying, use the word, that is who we are and we want you to see us. That is one piece of who we are. We claim that piece. We want you to know we’re proud of that piece. It is not a bad word.

NHM: Would you call yourself an advocacy or an educational organization?

Landers: I tell people we come at this in a different way. We put on events that are educational, talk to people about disability and show people what access looks like. All of our events are done accessibly, and all of that is advocacy work. We’re not doing an event for disabled people. It’s open to the public so everybody can join us; that is what makes us different.

Photo by Jaleel King Photograhy
Photo by Jaleel King Photograhy

NHM: Do you work with outside sponsors and/or volunteers? What roles do they have?

Landers: We have a great group of sponsors throughout the state. My board is very active, and we have volunteers. We do disability pride events in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Lehigh Valley. Before an event in Pittsburgh, for example, we’ll go to Pittsburgh, sit at the table with people and ask them: ‘what could an event look like here in Pittsburgh?’ Since doing that and sitting at the table with the community and trying to figure out what it could look like, we really have gotten some great allies, some great organizations, and have made some great friends. It’s been so nice to see the communities coming together.

NHM: What makes your organization unique or stand out among other disability advocacy nonprofits?

Landers: I know that there are other disability pride events that happen in other cities across the world. They’re having them in LA, in NY, they are also having them in Italy and Australia—there are more events every year.

People still think ‘pride’ is an LGBTQ thing, but pride is a feeling. It’s not attached to one movement or the other, it’s a part of all the movements, because we’re fighting for our rights and our pride in ourselves. We’re different because we do this all year, not just one event.

NHM: What else do you do throughout the year apart from the Disability Pride parade/event in the various Pennsylvania cities you mentioned?

Landers: During the year, we have different conversations, a lot more virtually than we do in person. We do an international day of disabled people, which is December 3.

We are trying to get folks to do a Martin Luther King project. We’ve partnered with Miss Wheelchair PA and collected socks for people who are unhoused. Unfortunately, a big part of the unhoused community represents disabled people.

NHM: What is the main message you’d like to get across, both about your organization and about the concept of pride in disability?

Landers: I want everyone to know that disability pride looks different for everyone, but everyone should be proud of who they are. Our organization, in our small way, is just trying to give people that space and that bit of fun. We’re here, we’re not going anywhere, we are ready to party. We make our event so that everybody can join us.

On August 26 and 27, Pittsburgh will host its own Disability Pride event in Oakland. Matthew Berwick, a program manager for Disability Accommodations in Clinical Services for the UPMC Health System in the Disabilities Resource Center, is helping to organize the Pittsburgh event.

Last year was Disability Pride’s first event in Pittsburgh, hosting 250 registrants, and according to Berwick, there was a ‘major tsunami.’ “Halfway through the event, tents were flying everywhere,” he laughed. “We were set up on Fort Pitt Boulevard, and one of the tents made it to the river.”

Despite the inclement weather and flying tents, Berwick said that the inaugural event was a success, and they are hoping to have at least as big of a crowd as they did last year. “We’re hosting it at the Schenley Plaza Square on Schenley Drive Extension; the goal at the kickoff event is to promote accessibility in Oakland,” he said.

The first day will start with an Oakland ramp crawl sponsored by the disability advocacy organization, Oakland for All. A mini parade will be held on the second day, along with musicians, speakers, and games. “The whole thing behind it is being proud of being a person with a disability; this is a way of celebrating our culture,” said Berwick. “We’ll bring the disability community together through organizations that serve people with disabilities, but really, it’s a street party for people with disabilities to come out and have an opportunity to interact with other disabled individuals.”

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