CW: References to ableism and hate speech.
On September 16, I volunteered at this year’s Disability Pride Sydney Festival at Ashfield Civic Centre. Here, I interviewed the event’s chairperson Hannah Solomons. Throughout our conversation, Solomons told me some stories behind the festival and her insights that deepened my understanding of what disability pride meant.
“You suppress the differences, you lose so much richness”: Solomons on disability inclusion in organising
Despite positive feedback from the disabled community, Disability Pride Sydney Festival was not without controversy. The three-time international pole dancing champion Deb Roach offered that she could do an outdoor pole dance for the festival, but Solomons said the Council was against the idea.
“The council people sat me down and had a very serious talking to me. ‘Don’t think that’s a good idea. No, no. Are you sure that’s going to send the right message?’
Despite the Council’s pushback, Solomons was adamant on featuring Roach and the outdoor pole dance.
“I actually think it’s a really good idea. And I insisted on continuing to do it. After the first one (the first Disability Pride Sydney Festival in 2021) both of the people at the council, who I had been working with, came to me and apologised.
“And then they actually tried to get Deb for one of their festivals.”
Another idea that the Council was opposed to is the art and crafts activities, where people with disabilities can express their voices through painting and crafting.
Solomons insisted on doing this because she wanted the festival to be about “disabled people being seen, heard, active and empowered”.
“That’s why we don’t just have the performances,” she said.
For Solomons, this shows how important it is to involve “minorities” in decision making.
“We often have the courage and the new perspective to do something very different,” Solomons said. “If you make your society so that you only listen to one part of it, and you suppress the differences, you lose so much richness.”
“Once they know what we’re about…”
The event had a panel discussion. The panellists are contacted mainly through informal networking and community.
Accessible Arts board director Emily Dash sits on a disability committee with Solomons. President of Diversity and Disability Alliance Abrahim Darouiche saw the event on Facebook and reached out. President of Deaf Sailing New South Wales Lachlan Clear turned up at a previous event.
The deaf Indigenous artist Daniel McDonald delivered a Welcome to Country in Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN). Deb Roach was also keen to be a part of the festival.
“Last year, she wanted to go overseas, and we told her the date of the festival. She postponed her holiday so that she could be there,” Solomons told me.
“Because she believes in what we are doing. That’s what I’ve been moved by – the fact that once the disability community knows what we’re about, they want to be involved and take part.”
This solidarity and collective contribution has a growing influence.
Solomons said it was the most meaningful experience for her to hear “disabled people say things to me like, I used to be ashamed of who I am, and now I’m not”.
Representation of disabled people matters
Solomons said she considered disability as the forefront of human rights in Australia. But the abuse and harm that the disabled people endure from still often goes unacknowledged.
The Disability Royal Commission has released its final report, collecting four-and-a-half years of testimonies around violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.
“People just don’t talk about disabled people as a minority. Despite the fact that 20% of the population is disabled, most of the time, we’re just ignored.
“They’ll say things like we want to help women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ people, which is all awesome except for the fact that there are disabled people of colour, disabled women, and disabled LGBTQ+ people.
“And when you leave disability off the list of minorities, you can’t include anyone else.”
“Just like the rest of us”
Solomons said she liked that disabled business people’s market at Disability Pride Sydney Festival has a diverse range of items. They sold not only items related to disabled culture such as fidget toys for autistic people. There’s also a disabled psychic there selling crystals. “This shows that disabled people are just like the rest of us.”
However, not all was smooth. In one instance, when I was distributing pamphlets at the festival, a man pointed at our slogan and asked me what disability pride was. In response to my explanation, he launched into a tirade, “Proud? What are they proud of? Pity, yes, they do need pity. They are using our money, they can’t live without the government’s support.”
I tried to persuade him, but he persisted, ignoring my words. Eventually I cut him off and said: “Please just go.”
I continued to do my job, but when Solomons came by and I told her about it, I started to cry.
People were there to listen to me and comfort me, and they are people with disabilities. That’s when I was thinking, they are kind, warm, considerate and wise, “just like the rest of us”, but discrimination exists to see the community as otherwise.
For Solomons, disability pride means celebrating disabled people as a minority community, rather than all the negative dominant assumptions, such as “recipients of charity” and “burden to society” that “nice, good caring, able bodied people might help if they’re feeling good”.
“Actually, we’re the largest and most diverse minority on Earth, and we have amazing contributions to make. It celebrates it, but also protests against the people who won’t accept that.”
[Top Image: A collage featuring four performers and volunteers at the Disability Pride Festival Sydney 2023 with the caption ‘Disability Pride Fest 2023’ in bold capitals.]