Disability Pride Parade NYC 2019: Event Recap

Josef Pevsner

On Sunday, July 14, New York City held its Fifth Annual Disability Pride Parade, organized by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) and Disability Pride NYC. Thousands of people, including those with disabilities, family members, caregivers, educators, politicians and other advocates marched through Midtown Manhattan on a sweltering summer morning, seeking to destigmatize disability and fight for common issues through a fun, community-oriented public display of pride.

Equal Entry was in the Parade, alongside partners A11yNYC and Diversability for another year. Here is our recap of the event.

Four 2019 Disability Pride NYC parade goers holding a Diversability banner.

Overview & Highlights

The temperature was high, but spirits were higher on Sunday, as thousands of marchers congregated at Madison Square Park around 10AM. Excitement was in the air in the hour-plus leadup to the parade, and everyone was showing off their pride. Well over 100 organizations representing New Yorkers across the spectrum of ability participated, including large local corporations like JPMorgan Chase and JetBlue, national disability service providers such as the Lighthouse Guild and United Spinal, government agencies including the NYC Department of Education and Census 2020, city school districts, and local disability-focused nonprofits like Reel Abilities and The Viscardi Center.

The theme of this year’s Parade was Creativity, and participants were encouraged to get creative with their floats, costumes, shirts, wheelchairs, hairstyles and accessories. Many marchers had custom shirts made for the occasion, large banner signs with their organizations’ logos, and other customized items like fans and water bottles, but creativity truly shined through customized wheelchair decorations and floats. One young girl had transformed her power chair into a fairytale chariot, to the adoration of her peers (and me). Some groups of marchers even brought instruments to play tunes before and during the march.

Multiple groups marching in the 2019 Disability Pride NYC Parade holding banners and blue balloons.

Around 11AM, the parade officially began, as participants marched down Broadway toward Union Square Park. The streets were cleared, police and other public service officials were stationed, and the first group of marchers were led by the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) Pipes and Drums, and the Fire Department of New York’s (FDNY) Pride Ambulance. 

Although the parade only ran a short distance, it was a staggering display of strength and unity. The line of marchers likely spanned much longer than the half mile march, and by 12:30PM, there were still marchers finishing the route.

Group of bag pipers marching in the 2019 Disability Pride Parade.

At the end of the parade route, the city held a festival for parade-goers and the public, continuing the festivities through the afternoon. The festival included speeches from politicians, musical and dance performances by involved groups, and tables set up around Union Square for service organizations to connect with parade-goers. One group of performers created percussive beats in a group beatboxing session. Another performed interpretive synchronised dancing in wheelchairs. All were impressive and moving, and the crowd never waned. The festival concluded with the Disability Pride Parade Awards presented by Miss Teen USA Kaleigh Garris, which were presented for costume and float creativity. 

Image of the 2019 Disability Pride NYC Parade main stage depicting event organizers and VIP's.

Throughout the parade and festival, participants shared messages to the public and other marchers; messages of disappointment with elected officials, frustration with the inaccessible transit system, anxiety due to a lack of options for public education, excitement for new developments in accessibility and most importantly, hope for a better tomorrow. On signs, posters and shirts, marchers had a LOT to say. 

Image of 2019 Disability Pride NYC Parade participants posing with a comical cutout image of Governor Cuomo.

The Importance of Disability Pride

Ultimately, Disability Pride NYC 2019 was a day filled with joy for marchers, festival-goers and onlookers alike. It is a golden opportunity for the disability community in NYC and beyond to come together in shared interest, to spread the message that disability affects everyone, and to demand that people with disabilities matter. They marched for inclusion, awareness, dignity, and above all else, visibility. The parade allowed them to march for these things through the perspective of pride and joy, rather than one of pity or charity.

Human Rights Watch summed it up best: “People with disabilities are active members of society who regard their disability as part of their identity. Sunday’s Pride Parade brought people together to celebrate that the city was accessible and inclusive for one day. Now, New York City should improve accessibility and make this something to celebrate every day.”

For more images from the event, visit our photo album.

Background on Disability Pride Parade

The parade, which draws thousands of people each year, was founded in 2015 by NYC resident Mike LeDonne. Mr. LeDonne’s daughter Mary, who was born with a genetic disorder, was the inspiration for the inaugural parade. Coordinating with MOPD, Disability Pride NYC organizes the parade each year to increase awareness, break down stereotypes, and showcase that people with disabilities are not to be pitied, but to be admired.

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