December 7, 2022 / Modified dec 8, 2022 4:41 p.m.

Tucson holds first Disability Pride Celebration

The event included musical and storytelling performances from disabled Tucsonans.

A woman is attempting to pass a basketball to someone behind her as an attendee blocks her shot. For some Tucsonans, it was their first time playing wheelchair basketball at Tucson's first Disability Pride Celebration. Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports worked with the residents to show them how to play the sport.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Guitars, poetry and laughter flooded the Morris K. Udall Park Senior Center as groups of friends, families and allies came together in the pouring rain for Tucson’s first ever Disability Pride Celebration.

The event worked to empower disabled Tucsonans as they took to the stage to continue writing their stories about disability being a culture and identity–not a problem.

Ward 2 Community Outreach Director Chris Desborough pitched the idea to Council Member Paul Cunningham after noting that Tucson does not have an event celebrating the disability community.

A basketball is mid-air as a group of people playing wheelchair basketball try to catch it. VIEW LARGER An attendee is attempting to block a basketball from scoring mid-air at Tucson's first Disability Pride Celebration in Udall Park on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports brought in wheelchairs as well as other equipment for Tucsonans to try adaptive sports for the first time.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

“As a blind community member, I really wanted to bring something like that here to Tucson,” Desborough said. “We celebrate a lot in Tucson, but we haven’t had a disability celebration… eight months later, here we are.”

From the food to the resources, Desborough made it a priority to include people with disabilities in every step.

“The planning, the pieces were all done 99.9% by people with disabilities,” Cunningham said.

For Desborough, it was important to bring together everyone, including able-bodied community members, to learn, support and advocate for change.

“Disability doesn’t discriminate,” Desborough said. “It affects absolutely everybody, and to pull the community together to come together to celebrate, it's important because we can see that disability cuts through everybody.”

Tucsonan John McCann is performing his acoustic guitar at Tucson's first Disability Pride Celebration. Tucsonan John McCann is playing the song "Yankee Lady" by Jesse Winchester on his guitar in Tucson at the Udall Park on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. McCann has also written songs, including ones that share his experience with his disability.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

Disability can affect anyone– no matter gender, age or race. Yet, in a city like Tucson that celebrates culture, Tucson native Naomi Ortiz says disability seems to take a back seat.

“Usually [when] trying to go to any event, [like] Tucson Meet Yourself… where culture is celebrated, there's still this instance where I have to go in and advocate to be able to participate,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz is a poet, author and visual artist who, this year, shared their poetry during the celebration. Before, they have been able to travel around the country to perform their work, including the 2004 Inaugural Disability Pride Parade in Chicago.

“Being a writer and a poet full time has been an evolution of claiming my own power and my own story,” they said. “[That includes] the ways that I can share and support the development of community, support the development of other people's identity and ability to grow within themselves and their own power. ”

Tucson native Naomi Ortiz is performing her poetry on stage at Tucson's first Disability Pride Celebration. VIEW LARGER Poet Naomi Ortiz has performed their poetry across the nation, including the Inaugural Disability Pride Parade in Chicago 2004. For them, it has become an outlet for self expression.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

But Ortiz, like many others with a disability, found they became an activist–not by choice, but by existence.

“I'm an activist, because I'm a disabled person in society,” Ortiz said. “So therefore, if I want to be in society, I have to be an activist. But, I'm an artist first.”

Ortiz hopes that by sharing their experiences with ableism, they are able to rewire society’s stereotypes.

“The narrative is very much like you need to overcome who you are. You need to hide. You need to change who you are. So this idea of just embracing who we are, and putting ourselves out there and saying, ‘deal with it. We have amazing gifts to give.’ That’s incredibly powerful.”

Almost 18 years after the first Disability Pride Parade, Ortiz is now able to share their work in their hometown’s first Disability Pride celebration. But, they hope this is not the end.

“I deserve to be out in the world. Disabled people deserve to be out in the world, living our lives, sharing our gifts. This is what disability pride is all about.”

A child is trying hand-cycling for the first time in a gym at Udall Park. Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports partnered with Ward 2 for Tucson's first Disability Pride Celebration. The organization brought equipment for Tucsonans to try adaptive sports, like hand-cycling.
Paola Rodriguez/Arizona Public Media

For other artists, like Tarik Williams, their work is not about reclaiming a narrative, but about living in their reality so others will listen.

“I've never given anybody the power to take that narrative away from me,” he said. “Just because people aren't listening to what I'm saying doesn't necessarily mean that I have to write my own narrative. I live as me every day.”

When Williams is not rapping or writing poetry, he is a mindset coach, who produces a podcast called “We Are Vision of Hope.” He hopes that, when people listen to his work, they learn to love more.

“If we could find ways to spread more love in our society for not one, but all, gosh, could you imagine? Anything's possible.”

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done on a global and local level, says Council Member Cunningham. But events like this allows for the city to better understand how they can create change citywide.

Now, Cunningham and Desborough are working together to create accessible transportation for people with disabilities.

TRANSCRIPT

Paola Rodriguez 0:03
Disabled Tucsonans took to the stage to continue writing their stories about disability being a culture and identity, not a problem. Chris Desborough, who is blind, is the Community Outreach Director for Ward two and pitched the idea to Councilmember Paul Cunningham after noting that Tucson does not have an event celebrating the disability community.

Chris Desborough 0:26
Disability doesn't discriminate. It affects absolutely everybody and to pull the community together to come together to celebrate. It's important because we can see that disability, it cuts through everybody.

Paola Rodriguez 0:43
Disability can affect anyone–no matter gender, age or race. Yet, in a city like Tucson that celebrates culture, Tucson native Naomi Ortiz says disability seems to take a backseat.

Naomi Ortiz 0:56
Usually trying to go to any event, Tucson Meet Yourself, any of these beautiful events that happen in our community where culture is celebrated, it's still this instance where I have to go in and advocate to be able to participate.

Paola Rodriguez 1:10
Ortiz is a poet, author and visual artist who, this year, shared their poetry during the celebration.

Naomi Ortiz 1:16
"In my wheelchair at best I'm seen as someone to absorb, to witness. At worst, I take up a lot of space. I distract. Neither are how I see myself."

Paola Rodriguez 1:29
Ortiz cannot remember a time where they did not write poetry.

Naomi Ortiz 1:34
Well, I think I wrote my first poem as a six year old. I think my mom saved it. Something about trees and wind beneath my knees, something really cute.

Paola Rodriguez 1:43
For them, it has always been an outlet of expression, especially when it comes to their intersecting identities.

Naomi Ortiz 1:50
Poetry and artwork has this way of like getting in sort of underneath the skin, right like or through the back door in a way that you just sort of don't expect where you could just be sitting there chit chatting with somebody and then hear a line of poetry and you're like, 'Oh, yes, I feel that so much like it strikes the heart.'

Paola Rodriguez 2:04
Ortiz has been able to travel around the country to perform their work, including the 2004 inaugural Disability Pride Parade in Chicago. They see their art as a way to reclaim their story.

Naomi Ortiz 2:20
Being a writer and a poet full time has been an evolution of claiming my own power and my own story, and the ways that I can share that and support the development of community, support the development of other people's identity and ability to grow within themselves and their own power.

Paola Rodriguez 2:39
But Ortiz, like many others with a disability, find they became an activist, not by choice, but by existence.

Naomi Ortiz 2:47
I'm an activist because I'm a disabled person in the society. And so therefore, if I want to be in society, I have to be an activist. But, I'm an artist first.

Paola Rodriguez 2:56
Ortiz hopes that by sharing their experiences with ableism, they are able to rewire society's stereotypes.

Naomi Ortiz 3:03
The narrative is very much like you need to overcome who you are. You need to hide. You need to change who you are. So this idea of just embracing who we are, and putting ourselves out there and saying deal with it. We have amazing gifts to give. That's incredibly powerful.

Paola Rodriguez 3:20
For other artists, like Tarik Williams, their work is not about reclaiming a narrative, but about living in reality so others will listen.

Tarik Williams 3:28
I've never given anybody the power to take that narrative away from me. Just because people aren't listening to what I'm saying doesn't necessarily mean that I have to write my own narrative. I live as me every day.

Paola Rodriguez 3:38
Almost 18 years after the first Disability Pride Parade, Ortiz is now able to share their work in their hometown's first Disability Pride celebration.

Naomi Ortiz 3:49
I deserve to be out in the world. Disabled people deserve to be out in the world, living our lives, sharing our gifts. This is what display pride is all about.

Paola Rodriguez 3:57
I'm Paola Rodriguez, Arizona Public Media.

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