Alan Holdsworth was window-shopping in his home country, England, when he realized there might be something wrong with his legs. As a young adult, Holdsworth caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection that day, and what he saw shocked him.
“I looked in a window and I realized: I’m not walking like anybody else,” Holdsworth, 64, said. “But I didn’t want to have a disability. I thought people wouldn’t accept me.”
For a long time, Holdsworth was in denial about his own disability. He wore only a leg brace, even though he should’ve been using a wheelchair. But when his coworker across the pond convinced him to do volunteer work on disability public policy, the cause began to grow on him.
Today, Holdsworth writes and performs music about his disability from his home in Bensalem, Pennsylvania under the name Johnny Crescendo. Sometimes he wears a leg brace, and sometimes he uses a wheelchair.
“I realized that disabled people are discriminated against, so I started writing songs about it,” Holdsworth said. “It’s quite a transformational thing. It feels a bit like coming out.”
For the fifth year in a row, Holdsworth is working to help others experience that same ‘coming out’ feeling. He’s organizing Philadelphia’s annual Disability Pride Parade, which will take place on June 17. As always, the parade will begin at the National Constitution Center and march west up Market Street to City Hall. It’ll end at Dilworth Plaza with speakers, performers and tables set up for local disability nonprofits.
But this year, Holdsworth is planning some new improvements.
For the past two years, Holdsworth managed to make a profit off the parade, instead of just breaking even. As a result, this year the parade has a larger budget than ever: $30,000.
Holdsworth has some ideas for how to use the extra cash. A week or so before the parade, he’d like to host a crafting event with all the attendees, where they can make T-shirts to wear and signs to hold up as they march up Market Street. Additionally, last year, Holdsworth said parade attendees complained about the heat. This year, he hopes to set up a spray tent at Dilworth Plaza which parade-goers can walk through to get wet and cool down a bit.
His most ambitious goal? He’d like to rent out a Philadelphia cinema and screen Defiant Lives, an Australian documentary about the disabilities civil rights movements in England, Australia and the United States, for the entire week of the parade.
“I’m a dreamer, so I’d like to set my sights really high,” Holdsworth said.
He also hopes he can rope in some new performers and speakers, though they’re not quite nailed down yet.
Kaelynne Koval is the founder of IDEATE, a Philadelphia nonprofit seeking employment equality for people with disabilities. Koval, a Germantown resident, has attended the parade for a few years now, and IDEATE usually has its own table set up at Dilworth Plaza. She said she expects the parade’s attendance to change this year due to the current political climate.
“Politically, things are not normal,” said Koval, 50, whose 13-year-old son, Simon, has a disability. “I would say there are more angry mothers with kids who are disabled, and there’s a real reason for that. I think the moms will come out.”
“This is important, because we don’t want our kids in the shadows,” she said.
Koval added that the appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education is particularly troubling for people with disabilities. In January when DeVos participated in Senate confirmation hearings, she expressed almost a complete lack of knowledge about a federal law protecting students with disabilities.
But Holdsworth said he hopes the parade doesn’t become too political.
“Too often we’re talking Hillary, Bernie, Trump, and we forget about who we are,” Holdsworth said. “This is not a demonstration. If it were, some people wouldn’t be there. This is about all disabled people.”
According to the Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute, about 240,000 people in Philadelphia ages 5 and older are living with a disability — that’s nearly 19 percent of the population. Holdsworth said he expects the parade to be “as big as last year,” when a few thousand people attended, “if not bigger.”
“The main thing about the Disability Pride Parade is just going and being there,” Holdsworth said. “We’re part of the community, part of Philadelphia. We’re really important.”
“It’s becoming a little bit like clockwork,” he added. “We know what we need to do, and it’s going really well already.”