Tak­ing pride in dis­abil­i­ties

In­au­gu­ral pa­rade of­fers ‘beau­ti­ful and nat­u­ral part of hu­man di­ver­sity’

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Metro - By Vin­cent T. Davis STAFF WRITER

A pro­ces­sion fo­cused on end­ing the stigma as­so­ci­ated with hav­ing a dis­abil­ity wound through down­town streets Satur­day.

At the front of the abil­i­tySTRONG Pa­rade, Han­nah Wat­son and Cory Wy­ck­off stood through the sun roof of a Jeep Wran­gler and waved to the crowd as the pa­rade flowed from the Cat­tle­man Square park­ing lot. Wy­ck­off ’s fa­ther, Todd, was at the wheel; his mother, Polly, kept pace be­side the slow-mov­ing Jeep.

Pride swept over both par­ents’ as their son took part in ac­tiv­i­ties they thought they’d never see.

Born with Down syn­drome, Cory, 21, went through 14 surg­eries in 14 years and on two oc­ca­sions al­most died. Their per­cep­tions of his po­ten­tial changed as in­clu­sion op­por­tu­ni­ties in­creased as he grew up. His par­ents said Cory was voted a duke at home­com­ing his sopho­more year and played on his high school bas­ket­ball team.

Now he was stand­ing tall in a lead pa­rade car.

“We don’t take any­thing for granted,” Todd Wy­ck­off said. “It was touch and go for a long time. It makes us proud that he can be in­cluded in things.”

From 9 to 10 a.m., the in­au­gu­ral dis­abil­ity pride pa­rade trav­eled a mile route along Nueva, South Flores and West Hous­ton. It was fol­lowed by the 12th an­nual Ac­cessA­bil­ity Fest at his­toric Mar­ket Square.

More than 300 peo­ple made up the 21 en­tries at the of­fi­cial Tri­cen­ten­nial event that fea­tured walk­ers, floats, Texas wheel­chair queens and the Bexar County Sher­iff ’s Mounted Pa­trol. The pa­rade was spon­sored by dis­ABILITYsa and the city’s Hu­man Ser­vices Head Start di­vi­sion and its Dis­abil­ity Ac­cess Of­fice.

Mayor Ron Niren­berg and his wife, Erika Pros­per, and their son, Jonah, served as grand mar­shals.

Niren­berg said it was grat­i­fy­ing to see res­i­dents come to the pa­rade and fes­ti­val.

“It un­der­scores the in­clu­sive­ness that we want to build our city on,” he said. “It’s of­ten peo­ple with dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties that are left out of the con­ver­sa­tion of di­ver­sity. A pa­rade is ex­actly the high-pro­file way to end it.”

Din­ers at Cafe Alameda stared and pointed as the pa­rade passed along Hous­ton. Marchers tugged an in­flated Tri­cen­ten­nial bal­loon ahead of Jef­fer­son High School’s band, high-step­ping cheer­lead­ers and Lari­ats dance team.

Dis­ABILITYsa co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Me­lanie Cawthon said sev­eral cities have spon­sored dis­abil­ity pride pa­rades, in­clud­ing Nacog­doches.

“The pa­rade is an ex­pres­sion of the be­lief that dis­abil­ity is a beau­ti­ful and nat­u­ral part of hu­man di­ver­sity,” she said, “in which peo­ple liv­ing with the dis­abil­ity can take pride.”

The non­profit also spon­sors Fi­esta Espe­cial, cre­ated for kids and adults with cog­ni­tive, de­vel­op­men­tal and phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences. An of­fi­cial Fi­esta event, the fair also in­cludes the coro­na­tion of a king and queen.

After the pa­rade, 2018 Fi­esta Espe­cial Duchess Jor­dan C. Allen stopped for a photo with Sher­iff Javier Salazar and his horse, Sgt. Kenny. The re­tired race horse is named in honor of Sgt. Kenny Vann, who was killed in 2011 in the line of duty. Salazar said the agency’s horses are a liv­ing trib­ute to fallen deputies.

“We reach out to ev­ery seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion,” Salazar said. “We never pass up an op­por­tu­nity to get out in the com­mu­nity for an event.”

Jor­dan smiled and kept an eye on the horse as he nuz­zled her shoul­der.

“He was shar­ing some love on my sweater,” Jor­dan said as she walked with her mother to­ward Mar­ket Square, where the aroma of roasted corn drifted across the fes­ti­val grounds.

The free fest in­cluded live en­ter­tain­ment, health screen­ings and more than 90 in­for­ma­tion booths that pro­moted prod­ucts, pro­grams and ser­vices to ben­e­fit peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

Linda­gail Bal­come and Lour­des Casanove, both 69, steered their elec­tric scoot­ers past cos­tumed su­per­heroes flex­ing mus­cles with guests. They rolled through the square, past booths with ti­tles such as “Dis­abil­ity Rights” and “Ca­nine Com­pa­nies for In­de­pen­dence.”

Bal­come said she en­joyed the fes­ti­val, but said one thing was miss­ing: more ramp ac­cess.

Polly Wy­ck­off said sup­port of the com­mu­nity and events such as the pa­rade have made a dif­fer­ence in the life of her son.

“Now, we know he’ll be able to live on his own,” she said, “and have a job.”

Pho­tos by Car­los Javier Sanchez / Con­trib­u­tor

Adam Vela, the 2017 Fi­esta Espe­cial king, waves at pa­rade­go­ers dur­ing the first abil­i­tySTRONG Pa­rade down­town. The pa­rade trav­eled along Nueva, South Flores and West Hous­ton and af­ter­ward was the 12th an­nual Ac­cessA­bil­ity Fest at Mar­ket Square.

Heather Bragg, a 2017 Fi­esta Espe­cial duchess, takes part in the pa­rade. More than 300 peo­ple made up the 21 en­tries at the of­fi­cial Tri­cen­ten­nial event.

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