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NYC's first Disability Pride Parade aims to alter attitudes

Manhattan resident Jessica Delarosa, and her dog, Mayin,

Manhattan resident Jessica Delarosa, and her dog, Mayin, take part in the inaugural New York City Disability Pride Parade on Sunday, July 12, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

"That's how I roll," Lindsay Tuman's T-shirt read Sunday at New York City's annual Disability Pride festivities.

"Everybody of every disability should have the access that everybody else has," said Tuman, 29, of West Milford, New Jersey.

Her message of inclusion and perseverance was a prevailing theme of the inaugural Disability Pride Parade, which coincided with the 25th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. Tuman, a social worker, ballroom dances and plans to surf next weekend -- all despite being paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair as a result of spina bifida at birth.

She was among about 3,000 people raising awareness of physical and mental disabilities in Manhattan at a rally near Madison Square Park and a parade down Broadway to Union Square.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which turns 25 on July 26, ensures the civil rights of people with disabilities, protecting them from discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere and mandating accessibility accommodations.

The legislation's architect, former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), told reporters Sunday that changing attitudes is key to improving lives.

"Looking at a person, not saying what can't you do, because of their disability, but what can you do? What are your abilities?" Harkin said. "That's a whole different mindset."

Harkin called unemployment numbers among Americans with disabilities a "blot on our national character," saying companies are missing out on talented workers because they haven't made workplaces more accessible.

Mayor Bill de Blasio at the rally noted the impact of the ADA. New York City and others now have curb cuts, "kneeling buses," which lower to make boarding easier for patrons with disabilities, and wheelchair-accessible seating in sports stadiums, he said.

The city is "taking the torch" from Harkin, de Blasio said, with goals to make 50 percent of the taxi fleet wheelchair-accessible by 2020 and to create more affordable housing for New Yorkers with disabilities.

City Public Advocate Letitia James was among several who applauded the progress on disability rights while noting how many more improvements can be made. The subway stations around Madison Square Park are not wheelchair-accessible, she pointed out.

Preparations for the parade included ensuring Broadway had no potholes and creating "calming stations" for those with autism. Speakers at the rally were accompanied by a sign language interpreter and had their remarks projected into closed caption on a large screen.

Quemuel Arroyo, 26, of Clinton, Manhattan, a policy analyst for accessibility in the city Transportation Department, showed off a hand-operated vessel with his wheelchair attached to the back. He said he hopes to incorporate "hand cycles" into a bicycle-sharing program.

Victor Calise, commissioner for the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, said the city aims to be the most accessible in the world. Calise, a former plumber who injured his spinal cord while downhill mountain biking, competed in sled hockey in the 1998 winter Paralympics in Nagano, Japan.

There's more to be done to improve life for the disabled, he said. "It's every day. It's changing attitudes, changing the landscape of the city, changing transportation, changing employment. It's all of the issues."

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