Every summer in Philadelphia, the Disability Pride Walk is led by a grand marshal across Market Street from the National Constitution Center to City Hall.
Last year, disability rights advocate and former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin sported the grand marshal title. This year, the grand marshal is EvoXLabs founder, Google Lime Scholar and 2015 Geek of the Year Ather Sharif.
Sharif has been a quadriplegic since a car accident in North Dakota in 2013, after which he did not touch a computer for a whole year.
Obviously, that’s changed. Through EvoXLabs, Sharif will be hosting The Accessibility World Conference and accessible technology hackathon evoHaX, both coming up in April. The Disability Pride Walk will be June 18 this year.
“The recognition is important,” Sharif said. “There are people with disabilities around and they should be given equal opportunity, whether that’s in jobs, sports, any other involvement in the community. That’s the awareness the pride walk creates.”
We all have a social responsibility to recognize the needs of people with disabilities, Sharif said. The parade, like any other pride walk, is a celebration of that. That’s the most important part.
“It’s unfortunate and it’s sad, but sometimes people with disabilities don’t have the confidence to get out. This is the only event they come out for,” he said, adding that when people with disabilities see the support of the public, they become motivated and gain the confidence to not feel ashamed.
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Some people are under the impression that being disabled is a shameful thing, Sharif said. That’s not the case.
“It’s one of those things where, if everyone has blonde hair and we have black hair, we feel left out,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean the community is not friendly or discriminatory, it’s a subconscious thing that makes you feel different.”
Last year’s Disability Pride Walk in New York City rallied thousands. Sharif said Philadelphia is not too far behind.