Canada

Toronto’s Disability Pride March is back in person for the first time since pandemic began

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This month, many are celebrating Disability Pride Month, and for the first time since the pandemic began, the Toronto march is going to be held in person — a chance to both celebrate the way the community has endured through COVID-19, and also a way to shine a light on problems they still face, organizers say.


Organizers noted during the emergency phase of the pandemic, they still held virtual marches, and will still be including a virtual portion in this year’s event, which is happening on Friday.


“The virtual march and the virtual community is very much part of our community, and we encourage other people to bring virtual options back,” Ariel Elofer, one of the organizers of the Toronto march, told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.


“But this year it’s a really big deal, given the disproportionate number of deaths of disabled people during COVID. We are really coming back to make noise and be seen in a way that we were not capable of doing during COVID.”


The pandemic had a devastating impact on disabled Canadians — on top of many disabled Canadians being vulnerable to the virus itself, many also struggled when they lost access to personal care workers. There are more than six million Canadians living with a disability.


Elofer said the pandemic shone a light on how society treats people with disabilities, and this march is part of making their community visible again.


“Being seen is not as simple as a ramp,” Elofer, who uses a mobility device, said. “But I think we are at the point where … it’s been made very clear to us that we are disposable in a thousand different ways, and so being seen means fighting back against the narratives and the eugenics that we’ve seen through COVID.”


The Toronto Disability Pride March started in October 2011 as part of Occupy Toronto, which was a protest against economic inequality. Over the years the march has been held at different times, and recently, organizers decided to hold it in July to align with celebrations in the U.S.


Disability Pride Month is in July in the U.S. to commemorate the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a groundbreaking bill for disabled Americans.


“To honour that, countries around the world and cities around the world are now celebrating July, so we felt it fit to celebrate now in July amongst all (the) other people,” Sydney Elaine Butler, one of the organizers of the Toronto march, told CTV’s Your Morning.


“It’s about fighting for our rights, it’s about celebrating, it’s a time of celebration, … we’re doing a march, but at the end we’re having a celebration of joy and being like, we’re here, we exist, we deserve to exist and celebrate at the same time.”


Society is still inaccessible for people with disabilities in many ways, several restaurants and buildings don’t have accessible entrances or ramps for wheelchairs and mobility devices, and there are also larger structural issues, Elofer said.


“We’re still fighting for our basic human rights,” Elofer said. “We’re still fighting for accessible, affordable housing, we’re still fighting for marriage equality, we’re still fighting for anti-poverty legislation and livable benefits.”


Disability benefits are delivered differently depending on the province, but activists have long pointed out that benefits are often insufficient. In many parts of the country, including in Ontario, a disabled person’s benefits may be scaled back if they get married — essentially making marriage not financially viable for many people with disabilities.


Elofer added organizers want to acknowledge how intersectionality is very important to disability activism.


“Understanding that colonialism, racism, classism, those things disable people, and we’re part of every single one of your communities, and we’re connected to every single one of you,” she said.


Butler echoed this sentiment, saying it’s important for people to understand that disabled people are part of their community.


“Being seen means we’re out there, we’re here, we’re not going away, we’re part of something bigger.”


At the heart of Disability Pride Month is the idea of defiance and celebration in the face of stigma, organizers said.


“It’s radical to have self-love, as a disabled person, so I would say disability pride is about radical self-love and about fighting for our lives,” Elofer said.


The Toronto Disability Pride March is set for Friday, July 14, starting from Queen’s Park at 1 p.m. ET and heading towards 50 Gould St. by 4 p.m. There will also be a livestream of the event.

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