Alvaro Gutierrez Interviews Michael Schweinsburg Executive Director of Disability Pride NYC

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Alvaro
Description: 

Hello and welcome to Project Access for All, today our guest is Michael J. Schweinsburg and he’s really is someone who I’m really excited to interview to be honest with you because he’s the Executive Director of Disability Pride NYC and my first question to Michael and we’re going to talk a lot about Disability Pride parade which is a wonderful event for the Americans with Disabilities Act 25th anniversary in this 2015 that we’re beginning.

Transcription: 

Transcribed Interview: Michael Schweinsburg

Alvaro Gutierrez: Hello and welcome to Project Access for All, today our guest is Michael J. Schweinsburg and he’s really is someone who I’m really excited to interview to be honest with you because he’s the Executive Director of Disability Pride NYC and my first question to Michael and we’re going to talk a lot about Disability Pride parade which is a wonderful event for the Americans with Disabilities Act 25th anniversary in this 2015 that we’re beginning. Michael my first question was, first of all thank you so much for being with us.

Michael .S: Oh thank you, thank you. I’m equally proud to be taking part in this as you know, you’re outreach in the community is very good, I’m honored you know that you are helping us spread our message, thank you very much.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Your very welcome Michael and my first question to you is this wonderful name Disability Pride NYC who came with this idea?

Michael .S: Well it’s a great story really. A fellow named Mike LeDonne who is a renowned jazz musician, who has a daughter with multiple disabilities, was taking her to school. She is by the way now 10 years old, and 3 years ago he came upon this notion because after the first year of walking her to school he really tired of parents allowing their children to turn around and point at her and gawk at her and treat her as someone from a sideshow, he then witnessed the Gay Pride parade and said what’s wrong with this picture why isn’t there a Disability Pride parade and so not being involved with any disability organizations or anything he just set out as an individual with a germ of an idea, to make something that would display his pride in his daughter, to his daughter, for his daughter and again not having the support of any of our recognized organizations, reached out to friends until he finally found a couple of attorneys who said they would work pro bono to help him organize what in this
country is known as 501(c)3 - the federal designation for not for profit organization. He then set about trying to form committees he did so on two occasions, they both disbanded, but he stuck with it. He didn’t get discouraged he you know encountered a lot of adversities, but he kept at, and he kept at. Then he was getting ready to start his third, sort of incarnation of this, and that’s when a blast email went out that I read. I attended that first meeting in July. Liked very much what I heard I embraced and loved the concept and my first reaction was to call our fabulous Commissioner Victor Calise who was very generous with his time and very supportive and very giving in fact it was the Commissioner who suggested the route for our parade. He also informed me of the you know a better estimate of the cost of the parade but you know what I remembered most from that conversation or was the end of the conversation when I suggested that perhaps he would be kind to enough you know nominate his staff members to serve as liaison between me, the parade committee and himself and he said oh mike I want to stay on top of this myself if you have any questions, causes, concerns, anything please call me and I’ll take your call, and true to his word every time I called he picked up. He’s been central to our progress and I can’t thank him enough. So how its evolved, well that’s the you know, the biggest turning point in our evolution was the Mayor’s office coming on board, but as I sort of anticipated it’s been embraced by the board spectrum of the disability community and we’re really greatly encouraged by that.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Very interesting Michael, and for our listeners there is going to be a surprise later on. Now I would like to know in your opinion why do you think this kind of event is important not only for the city of New York, but for the whole country, and for the whole world to see?

Michael S.: Well because the concept of pride seems foreign to so many in the disability community. You know I’ve going to meetings throughout the cities since I got started with this and that’s the most frequently asked question. They say proud, it’s one thing to accept, but another to be proud. I might
take pride in adapting and surviving but how can I can be proud of being disabled. You know I view that question as a reaction to the prejudice against our community or any of the other you know different people who make up our society, but remember at our amazement when James Brown first sang say it loud I’m black and I’m proud. Are you old enough to remember when gay pride seemed an oxymoron, now we happily celebrate Puerto Rican pride, and Irish pride and pride this and pride that, you know the people who established those movements realized simply that denial or assimilation are not the answers. They make our identities invisible yet such is the power of a status quo that too many are conditioned to hide their differences. So I believe it’s time to follow Michael LeDonne’s lead and the Commissioner’s advice and take pride, true pride in who we are in our identities. That’s why I think that not only in our parade but the entire month long series of events being planned for the month of July here in New York City are very very important to the community

Alvaro Gutierrez: Very good point Michael has and as someone who has vision impaired you know and I can relate to that and I understand it and I agree with that and I know everyone at our website are things they are saying and that’s one of the reasons we are doing this podcast to raise awareness about the beauty of people in this diverse society we live in and to make sure that we always think about inclusion and equality and respect for all. So it’s very exciting.

Michael S.: Thank you

Alvaro Gutierrez: So as we know this year the ADA turning 25 celebrations that community outreach are essential parts of what is going to be this Disability Pride parade. I would like to know why inclusion is key in this parade and in everything related to the ADA and to the ADA turning 25

Michael S.: Well if by inclusion you’re referring to our strong push to ensure that all segments of the disability community are recognized and involved then I’d say this, one of our primary goals is to tear
down the side laws that keep us apart and that keep us from speaking with a unified voice. We are the largest minority; imagine our collective strength when hundreds of organizations across this city speaking for millions of people join together. That’s why I believe inclusion is so vitally important and why we are striving to accomplish just that.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now this parade is going to be held where exactly this year?

Michael S.: Ok, it will be marching from the northern part of Madison Square Park so that’s 26th street and Fifth Avenue to join Broadway and then down Broadway to the northern end of Union Square Park. Where we will have a sort of mobilization rally at the beginning and a large show with speakers and entertainers and some very exciting people are coming on board to perform that after noon, but that will be the big show at the northern end of Union Square Park.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now Michael how do you make sure that there is a way that the five boroughs is as and many different disability groups can participating this parade.

Michael S.: Well early on I realized that we had to make the effort, and so I put in place a series of meetings you know we were having monthly planning meetings anyway but we are taking our show on the road starting this Friday in Brooklyn we will have the first of our other borough outreach meetings and organizing committee meetings that will take place in a different borough every month leading up to the parade itself six months from now. So we will have Friday’s meeting in Brooklyn, the next meeting will be in Queens, following that will The Bronx, following that will be Staten Island, we are going out to Long Island to make it a little bit more regional but because of the strong interest expressed by several organizations out there, and then our final meeting will be in Harlem, which is in Manhattan. But it’s absolutely necessary to ensure that to the greatest extent it possible obviously we are not going to capture everyone, but to the greatest extent possible we are going to them to make
it easier for them to be part of us. We want the celebration this year and in every year to be more and more inclusive of the you know vast and diverse array of organizations and individuals and different people that come together to make up our broad proud disability community the only way I think we accomplish that is by going to them. Not sitting back here in Manhattan waiting for them to come to us, that doesn’t make sense to me.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Well I have to say for our listeners that I am very happy that Long Island is included.

Michael S. So am I

Alvaro Gutierrez: Yes yes many people have told me about that, and they’re going to be happy to know that. I would like to know if someone is listening right now from any organization or any person of any abilities right now and says ok I want to be in that parade I want to participate, I want to march, tell us how can they do that?

Michael S: I wish that everybody could hear this podcast, because you know and thanks for asking you know I believe it’s vitally important for folks to know. You know at this point we’re greatly encouraged by the interest building among the diverse array of organizations we really do appreciate that but most importantly we want individual; individuals, particular those non affiliated with organizations to know that this event is as much about them and their wellbeing as it is about celebrating the achievements of the organized disability movement. We will have our registration form available on our Website that they can look for in I’d like to say April but certainly no later than May 1st so they need only to go to disabilitypridenyc.com and they can register there to march in the parade and we want individuals to know, certainly word is spreading fast among the many organizations in town and they’ll know how to sign up but it’s that person who is a little disenfranchised that person doesn’t perhaps identify, who doesn’t take part in activities related to the
disability community. We want to capture that person, we want to help instill this sense of pride that we are trying to develop throughout the community person by person so thank you very much for the question and I hope that lone individual out there who wants to know how to get involve hopefully now they know how to get involved so thanks for the question.

Alvaro Gutierrez: No my pleasure and Michael I was thinking , ok I have two questions that I have not prepared here but you give me a notion to this follow up what if someone is visiting from another state are they able to participate?

Michael S.: Absolutely oh my goodness you know we’re getting calls from all over the country.

Alvaro Gutierrez: great

Michael S.: People are sending contingence, floats, you know organizations are coming, individuals are coming. We welcome everybody who wants to celebrate disability pride on July 12 to be you know to be to come march, be proud, be loud and have a good time, because it’s going to be a great event.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Oh yes, and for our listeners I have to ask, do you have any idea of who in the political or the celebrity kind of people we are able to attract to this kind of event, because I think for our listeners this is also critical to get massive response you know I think that the media everybody should be embracing this. I think the gay community has done a wonderful job in making sure that everyone understands the importance of equality in civil rights in being included in society and they have made it you know clear to society and everybody have responded to that so I wonder Michael I know its early I know we don’t know yet but I hope many people from all parts of the political aisle and everybody is going to be precedent in this parade in this celebration because it is about society.

Michael S.: Well let me tell you that I have had for different reasons now I am not saying that these meetings were set up to discuss disability pride I have a number of other things that I work hard on
but I’ve had the opportunity to over the last few months to meet with dozens of elected officials and each of them is really excited about our parade and has offered you know assistance and or promises that they would attend and march with us and I’m very very encouraged by that. Obviously our Mayor, number one is solidly behind us and that’s big in this city I’m not saying that his predecessor was not supportive of the community but certainly you know didn’t go, wasn’t interested to the extent that our current Mayor is who is organizing an entire month long series of events to celebrate our community and our achievements over the last 25 years but I’ll also let you know but I can’t at this point name names but there’s certain presidential candidates or potential presidential candidates have expressed interest, not made commitment, but expressed interest that we have been noticed by elected officials on the Federal, State and Local level so that would be an amazing outcome for this parade to have any number of politicians to get up on our stage and make promises that we will hold them to.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Absolutely, absolutely now you responded that already if I’m not mistaken but our listeners I want to clear on something that you said related to, is there going to be a yearly event?

Michael S.: No doubt, it has always been our intention to make it an annual event but beyond that we’re very proud to be part of the planning committee with the Mayor’s Office and what I’m most happy with is that I offered the notion to my colleagues on that planning committee that we keep the band together and that we do this month long series of event every year and that’s been meant with enthusiasm so not only will our parade be an annual but hopefully the entire series of events will be repeated year after year and that means you know cultural institutions, academic institutions, and museums, performance venues, and like that will all be presenting lectures and exhibits you know theater and dance and poetry and venues in all the five boroughs throughout the month of March as we continue on in the ensuing years will you know we’ll only be expanding that so.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Oh that is big news Michael.

Michael S.: Yeah

Alvaro Gutierrez: I’m sure I speak in the name of everybody to say this is wonderful because that’s all we need you know it’s important to people and its important keep expanding our outreach and it’s important to keep going, going and going if you only do this to celebrate one major breakthrough or one major anniversary and then you stop then you lose all the traction so you got I think this is critical for the movement.

Michael S.: It’s an idea who’ time has long past due. You know let’s look at the Gay pride movement right, that parade started the year after a riot and the parade date was determined by the date of that riot and it has continued every year around the date of that riot from my money the anniversary is something as important as our Bill of Rights, the ADA is a far more significant event then a riot, with all you know due respect to the LGBT community what I’m saying is you know the ADA is a life changing document that needs to be better recognized and so I would be proud if this parade in addition to the many parades by the way that happen across the country become the vehicles for celebration of that very important piece of legislation and to celebrate the progress that it has help enable.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now I would like to know do you know if there’s going to be another Disability Pride parade anywhere else in the United States.

Michael S: Oh, absolutely, look Chicago has held annual parades for about 12 years now. Last year there were parades in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Colorado, and Ohio, in Silicon Valley and my favorite is the one in Nacogdoches, Texas, I’ve never heard of Nacogdoches, Texas. Whatever that means that’s a tiny little town and they

Alvaro Gutierrez: wow

Michael S: have a Disability Pride parade, how about that?

Alvaro Gutierrez: That says it all, all of the importance yes. Now I would like to hear an advice from you maybe for people that are trying to start something right now related to the ADA or they are maybe you know trying to start like a march or you know something that may impact the community and they are thinking how do we start to make some noise because it has to be everywhere, has to. He’s talking about New York City, I maybe in Florida we may have things going on but I would like to do more, how I can I start my own little thing maybe not even so little where I am?

Michael S.: Well just do it, the time has come, you know the time is now, look we are a 100 percent grassroots volunteer organization started as I said by the parent of a child with disabilities. Someone who other than his adoration of his daughter had no affiliation with the disability movement. He recognized the need and he fought for 3 years to bring us to this point, so I would advise that in your planning you be careful to maintain that it be of, by and for the disability community and certainly if you are an individual or a group intent on bringing a disability celebration to your town feel free to reach out to me and I will be happy to provide you as with much guidance as possible.

Alvaro Gutierrez: And speaking of reach Michael, how can people reach out to you and to go to the Website and find more information about the Disability Pride parade?

Michael S.: Ok like our effort it is in progress, so our Website is you know an effort in progress, but it’s up, so you can go to disabilitypridenyc.com. Now depending upon when you’re hearing this it may have morphed into disabilitypridenyc.org. We own that domain as well and I think that’s more appropriate and we may switch it over to the .org, o-r-g domain but Disability Pride NYC, a Google search will get you to us. Matter fact now when you put up disability pride the first you know when disability community. We want to capture that person, we want to help instill this sense of pride that we are trying to develop throughout the community person by person so thank you very much for the question and I hope that lone individual out there who wants to know how to get involve hopefully now they know how to get involved so thanks for the question.

Alvaro Gutierrez: No my pleasure and Michael I was thinking , okay I have two questions that I have not prepared here but you give me a notion to this follow up what if someone is visiting from another state are they able to participate?

Michael S.: Absolutely oh my goodness you know we’re getting calls from all over the country.

Alvaro Gutierrez: great

Michael S.: People are sending contingence, floats, you know organizations are coming, individuals are coming. We welcome everybody who wants to celebrate disability pride on July 12 to be you know to be to come march, be proud, be loud and have a good time, because it’s going to be a great event.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Oh yes, and for our listeners I have to ask, do you have any idea of who in the political or the celebrity kind of people we are able to attract to this kind of event, because I think for our listeners this is also critical to get massive response you know I think that the media everybody should be embracing this. I think the gay community has done a wonderful job in making sure that everyone understands the importance of equality in civil rights in being included in society and they have made it you know clear to society and everybody have responded to that so I wonder Michael I know its early I know we don’t know yet but I hope many people from all parts of the political aisle and everybody is going to be precedent in this parade in this celebration because it is about society.

Michael S.: Well let me tell you that I have had for different reasons now I am not saying that these meetings were set up to discuss disability pride I have a number of other things that I work hard on
but I’ve had the opportunity to over the last few months to meet with dozens of elected officials and each of them is really excited about our parade and has offered you know assistance and or promises that they would attend and march with us and I’m very very encouraged by that. Obviously our Mayor, number one is solidly behind us and that’s big in this city I’m not saying that his predecessor was not supportive of the community but certainly you know didn’t go, wasn’t interested to the extent that our current Mayor is who is organizing an entire month long series of events to celebrate our community and our achievements over the last 25 years but I’ll also let you know but I can’t at this point name names but there’s certain presidential candidates or potential presidential candidates have expressed interest, not made commitment, but expressed interest that we have been noticed by elected officials on the Federal, State and Local level so that would be an amazing outcome for this parade to have any number of politicians to get up on our stage and make promises that we will hold them to.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Absolutely, absolutely now you responded that already if I’m not mistaken but our listeners I want to clear on something that you said related to, is there going to be a yearly event?

Michael S.: No doubt, it has always been our intention to make it an annual event but beyond that we’re very proud to be part of the planning committee with the Mayor’s Office and what I’m most happy with is that I offered the notion to my colleagues on that planning committee that we keep the band together and that we do this month long series of event every year and that’s been meant with enthusiasm so not only will our parade be an annual but hopefully the entire series of events will be repeated year after year and that means you know cultural institutions, academic institutions, and museums, performance venues, and like that will all be presenting lectures and exhibits you know theater and dance and poetry and venues in all the five boroughs throughout the month of March as we continue on in the ensuing years will you know we’ll only be expanding that so.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Oh that is big news Michael.

Michael S.: Yeah

Alvaro Gutierrez: I’m sure I speak in the name of everybody to say this is wonderful because that’s all we need you know it’s important to people and its important keep expanding our outreach and it’s important to keep going, going and going if you only do this to celebrate one major breakthrough or one major anniversary and then you stop then you lose all the traction so you got I think this is critical for the movement.

Michael S.: It’s an idea who’ time has long past due. You know let’s look at the Gay pride movement right, that parade started the year after a riot and the parade date was determined by the date of that riot and it has continued every year around the date of that riot from my money the anniversary is something as important as our Bill of Rights, the ADA is a far more significant event then a riot, with all you know due respect to the LGBT community what I’m saying is you know the ADA is a life changing document that needs to be better recognized and so I would be proud if this parade in addition to the many parades by the way that happen across the country become the vehicles for celebration of that very important piece of legislation and to celebrate the progress that it has help enable.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now I would like to know do you know if there’s going to be another Disability Pride parade anywhere else in the United States.

Michael S: Oh, absolutely, look Chicago has held annual parades for about 12 years now. Last year there were parades in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Colorado, and Ohio, in Silicon Valley and my favorite is the one in Nacogdoches, Texas, I’ve never heard of Nacogdoches, Texas. Whatever that means that’s a tiny little town and they

Alvaro Gutierrez: wow

Michael S: have a Disability Pride parade, how about that?

Alvaro Gutierrez: That says it all, all of the importance yes. Now I would like to hear an advice from you maybe for people that are trying to start something right now related to the ADA or they are maybe you know trying to start like a march or you know something that may impact the community and they are thinking how do we start to make some noise because it has to be everywhere, has to. He’s talking about New York City, I maybe in Florida we may have things going on but I would like to do more, how I can I start my own little thing maybe not even so little where I am?

Michael S.: Well just do it, the time has come, you know the time is now, look we are a 100 percent grassroots volunteer organization started as I said by the parent of a child with disabilities. Someone who other than his adoration of his daughter had no affiliation with the disability movement. He recognized the need and he fought for 3 years to bring us to this point, so I would advise that in your planning you be careful to maintain that it be of, by and for the disability community and certainly if you are an individual or a group intent on bringing a disability celebration to your town feel free to reach out to me and I will be happy to provide you as with much guidance as possible.

Alvaro Gutierrez: And speaking of reach Michael, how can people reach out to you and to go to the Website and find more information about the Disability Pride parade?

Michael S.: Ok like our effort it is in progress, so our Website is you know an effort in progress, but it’s up, so you can go to disabilitypridenyc.com. Now depending upon when you’re hearing this it may have morphed into disabilitypridenyc.org. We own that domain as well and I think that’s more appropriate and we may switch it over to the .org, o-r-g domain but Disability Pride NYC, a Google search will get you to us. Matter fact now when you put up disability pride the first you know when
you Google disability pride the first half a dozen listings or so are relative to our organization so we shouldn’t be too hard to find.

Alvaro Gutierrez: wow, Michael nobody knows it all so. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you would like to discuss before I give you questions from someone you know very well.

Michael S.: Sure, and I’ll reiterate that you know that this is still a working progress and there is time for more folks to get involved. So they can do so by attending one or more of our monthly meetings that will be coming to a borough near you soon. If you can’t attend a meeting, join in the efforts of your local organization and if you have no affiliation, be sure to come out and share your pride on July 12.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Wonderful and now from New York City, MOPD New York Commissioner Victor Calise have some inspiring questions.

Michael S: Thank you

Victor Calise: Hi Alvaro and hi everybody listening I’m Victor Calise, the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, first thanks for all your help, for your support and your commitment to New York City’s ADA 25 anniversary. My first question for you is; what does the ADA and this 25th anniversary mean to you?

Michael S.: Well the ADA is of course our Bill of Rights pardon yet no similar decree in modern times has suffered the attacks that ADA endured during the previous administration. Thankfully ADA restoration legislation was enacted that strengthen the law and the protections it offers. As you know Commissioner in years passed I’ve then seen several ADA events in Brooklyn and they’re among the most joyful celebrations I’ve witnessed.

Victor Calise: My second question, as you know the ADA looks out for the wellbeing of people with disabilities so all of these areas where the ADA is improving people’s lives; employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services and telecommunications which one do you think needs the most improvement?

Michael S.: Wow, now I know that I’m going to get in trouble no matter how I answer this question but at the risk of offending our friends who advocates specifically for any one of those areas I’d have to say; employment, not only because of the effect on an individual’s financial status but by being in the workplace and performing their duties they are demonstrating their abilities in their work setting and they are displaying the beauty and dignity of difference it is a small celebration of diversity and a grand statement of pride.

Victor Calise: And my final question, what’s your message for any young people listening to encourage them to help celebrate and keep the spirit of the ADA moving forward?

Michael S: I guess you would mean besides charting out the old tired trope of you are our future, well they are and we have no future without them picking up the baton and moving forward beyond that I would share with them my own personal creed; confront your fears whether those with fears have to do with yourself or how others might view you, become visible, challenge prejudice, never apologize for being you, take pride in who you are.

Alvaro Gutierrez: we are getting to the final segment of this talk but I really want to thank you Michael for your dedication, your commitment, your passion and the wonderful experience
that you bring to this show today. I’m sure people that are going listen are going to be inspired to do something related to the ADA turning 25 to the ADA in general and also to go marching July 12th which for our listeners I also have to say is my own birthday.

Michael S.: Ooh

Alvaro Gutierrez: yes

Michael S.: There are so many people I know have told me that same thing.

Alvaro Gutierrez: really really

Michael S.: I guess all the great people were born on July 12th.

Alvaro Gutierrez: What can I say Michael

Michael S.: There you go

Alvaro Gutierrez: thank you for that, you know I really hope that all of us are going to be present there you know for ADA celebration and Project Access for All and everybody who is in this wonderful community who supports what we are all trying to do together because unity I think is one of the words of this talk today at least for me you talk about unity, you talk about one voice, I think it’s critical for our community to move forward in the right direction. Any final thoughts?

Michael S.: no, except that it is refreshing to hear that what I’ve heard expressed a lot in meeting
rooms across this city is shared across the world it’s really wonderful to hear that were on the same page separated by a continent but you know speaking the same language that is wonderfully encouraging and let’s just continue to spread this message of joy throughout the world together; I appreciate that. Thank you kindly.

Alvaro Gutierrez: My pleasure Michael, thank you so much for being with us and for our listeners remember you can follow Project Access for All on Twitter, you can like us on Facebook, Project Access for All and I hope you are going to have a wonderful day and also remember you can email us at Podcast@Projectaccessforall.org and from Alvaro from ABS team and from everybody who does this show thank so much for listening and have a wonderful day.

Interview ends.