Traci Welch considered the first-ever Fairhaven DisABILITY Pride event a success the moment a participant approached her to say she’d hire a job candidate Welch had been working with.
A project of the Fairhaven Belonging Committee and M.O.L.I.F.E., the July 30 event was held outdoors behind the town’s Council on Aging and Recreation Center with people of all ages and abilities attending to speak with vendors, play games, dunk local officials in the dunk tank, and enjoy the beautiful day together.
Welch said she got involved both through her work as a job developer for M.O.L.I.F.E. and her experience organizing Pride events through the SouthCoast LGBTQ+ Network.
It’s difficult to get employers to hire people with disabilities, even those who profess a commitment to diversity, she said about the need for an event like DisABILITY Pride.
“They can be an equal opportunity employer, but how often do you see people with diverse disabilities working there?” she asked, describing how she and a woman looking for two hours of work a week as a cleaner went door-to-door in downtown New Bedford, but didn’t get any interest.
“Then, as I was standing here today, someone came up to me and said I’ll hire her,” Welch said smiling. “That makes today successful.”
DisABILITY Pride was created so that “everyone here feels welcome and feels like they belong in Fairhaven,” said Leon E. Correy III, chairperson of the Belonging Committee and a member of the town’s Select Board.
“As a person of color, what belonging means to me is a place where they care about you,” Correy told those in attendance. “We want to make you feel welcome enough that you want to come back.”
“July marks the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a comprehensive Civil Rights law for persons with disabilities,” said Welch at the event. “July is an occasion to celebrate people with diverse abilities, honor their inherent and inalienable rights, promote their visibility, and applaud their achievements.”
Jason Moura, a Fairhaven parent and Unified Sports coach, told the crowd about his daughter and what being able to play sports has meant to her. She plays on a Unified Sports team, a program which offers young people with disabilities a chance to participate on school sports teams.
The program helps young people relate to each other and accomplish things they didn’t think possible, Moura said.
“Sports and competition by their very nature are unifiers,” he said. “Little did I know that something special had started that day (his daughter started on the unified basketball team.)”
In case anyone doubted their athleticism, Moura said the youth beat their parents every time in the annual parent-versus-players game.
“The athletes that participate in these programs are athletes,” he said. “Every athlete has strengths and weaknesses. Every athlete can get better.”
The DisABILITY Pride event will definitely be held again, said Correy, noting the enthusiasm of the people attending as one of the reasons for replicating the day’s activities.
“The plan is for this to be an annual event,” he said, “especially with it being so well attended in its first year.”