On Saturday 20 September 2014, Belfast held the first Disability Pride event in the UK and Ireland. Michael Holden, who lives with motor neurone disease, and his team have been working hard to put this together all year. I was lucky enough to be there, and wild horses would have followed me there if they tried to stop me. I’m thankful to the team for giving us a reason to be positive.
At Writers Square, everyone began to gather. The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s corner was small in number but huge in spirit. One of my own traditions is to decorate my wheelchair for Christmas. There are occasions outside which give the opportunity for my chair to be decked out – and Disability Pride was one such time. I had balloons, sashes turned into flags, and a banner above my head. I could not have been more orange and everyone knew which team I was on.
Disability Pride started in Chicago 10 years ago and has since been growing. Pride will mean something different to all of us. There are always scientists looking for treatments and cures, advocates seeking better treatment, or those like our Trailblazers fighting for social acceptance. Within the world of people with disability, there is never ending activity, things to be done, and buzz of both the positive and negative type.
What we don’t do is stop – just stop – and say yes! I’m here, I am alive. I have a disability but I am proud to be an individual in this society, whether you accept me or not.
Truth is, living with any disability gives challenges. But any life will give us challenges – I just got those associated with living life with a neuromuscular condition. My sister got dealt that same hand and her one wish for me was that I would grow up accepting that SMA is a part of me. So when it was time to parade right through Belfast City Centre to City Hall – right behind a wheelchair using Mr Tumble – it was with no qualms about my identity as a person with a disability.
I spent most of my afternoon in the Northern Ireland Rare Disease Partnership and Muscular Dystrophy Campaign corner of the tent. It was amazing to see so many people we knew from years gone by, many of whom don’t have a neuromuscular condition but face exactly the same fight we do. We had lots of laughs, smiles and the brilliant Slims Kitchen sent their crew to support us.
Pride was a day of celebration and statement. Belfast embraced us with open arms and a happy heart, and our whole community came together for a positive reason. Celebration that we are here, in a country that will help us most of the time and that we have the good end of a deal that isn’t always great. But more than that it was a statement. A statement that we are part of society, that we do contribute and have something to offer the world – just like every other human being.
Written by Michaela Hollywood, Regional Ambassador for Trailblazers in Northern Ireland.
To learn more about the Disability Pride festival visit www.disabilitypride.co.uk