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SJC City Council to Parade Organizers: Ditch the Ban on Motorized Wheelchairs

Officials force the non-motorized Swallows Day Parade to "come into the 21st century" by allowing people in electric wheelchairs to participate.

Swallows Day Parade organizers have taken the “non-motorized” element of the event too literally by not allowing people in electric wheelchairs to participate unless loaded onto a cart, and that’s got to change, the San Juan Capistrano City Council said Tuesday night.

For decades, the Swallows Day Parade has been advertised as one of the larger non-motorized parades in the world. And the ban on motors applied to wheelchairs as well as vehicles. Organizers have said they don’t want to spook the many horses that walk the route.

But this year, “I believe the parade should come into the 21st century,” resident Heidi Langefeld told the City Council. She spoke on behalf of her brother Herb, who is confined to a wheelchair and wants to participate in the 2012 parade.

The Fiesta Association hosts and pays for the parade as part of its monthlong celebration of the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano. As in years past, members went before the City Council to ask for a parade permit and license and to approve the street closures for the day. The parade is scheduled for March 24.

The council agreed but with a string attached: Change the wheelchair policy.

Surely the intent of being a non-motorized parade wasn’t designed to keep people from participating, said Councilman John Taylor, adding that motorized wheelchairs shouldn’t detract from the event’s attempt to take the public back to a simpler time.

“Thank you!” yelled Herb from his wheelchair.

Derek Reeve, who is in a wheelchair himself, said he didn’t “walk” the parade last year. So when a constituent told him of the motorized wheelchair ban, “I thought they were kidding. I just brushed it off,” he said.

“To not [allow] an electric wheelchair effectively bans people who medically need an electric wheelchair from participating in the parade,” Reeve said.

Several representatives of the Fiesta Association also spoke at the council meeting. Larry Thomas said he personally isn’t opposed to the ban, but “there’s an issue for public safety with the horses.”

Councilwoman Laura Freese said the horses are more likely to get spooked from the spectators than other parade participants.

Councilman Sam Allevato agreed.

“It can be done," he said. "Parade organizers need to do just what they always do and separate the groups."

The council's contingent approval passed 5-0 to applause from those in attendance. 

Donna Taylor February 23, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Sam, you sound like a politician. You ignored the underling intent of my comment and went on to state your politically correct comments. The intent of my comment was not compliance to the letter of the law, but the erosion of traditional values in our society by those who would make their point at it's expense, even though they may need not. I understand that sufficient alternatives were made available in this case to accommodate this individual, but he chose to enforce his right, regardless of tradition. Yes, it may be is his right to do so, but it is sad that this was more important to him than the preservation of over 50 years of tradition. BTW... as a Flight Attendant, I am well aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but, again, that was not really my point.
ca February 24, 2012 at 12:00 AM
you/re a flight attendant..ok, that explains everything...
V. Duvall February 24, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Sam is a politician, Donna. He's our former Mayor. Surprised you didn't know that. He's a good one too. Times change and traditions should go with the flow. This person or people may not feel comfortable being pushed down the street. Perhaps they want to be a bit more independent. Would you keep that from them? I hope not. That is not morally correct. I wouldn't exactly call a battery powered wheelchair "motorized". I'm all for tradition but once in awhile we need to make certain changes to help others.
Clint Worthington February 24, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Donna, ninety nine percent of the time I disagree with Mr. Allevato and I am not afraid to tell him so and do so quite often. While I may spontaneously catch on fire for doing so, Mr. Allevato is absolutely 100% correct on this.
Donna Taylor February 25, 2012 at 09:38 PM
@ Duvall, - I am well aware of Sam's Council position, which is why I reminded him that he is sounding like a politician. As I understand it, the Fiesta Association NEVER denied this individual entrance to their event. They just encouraged him to join them in the spirit and tradition of their non-motorized parade by offering him alternative modes of transportation (at their expense). When he refused their offers they approved his participation w/ his motorized WC as originally requested. Period, (what should have been) end of story.... For people to insinuate that they are biased towards the disabled shows a lack of information about the Fiesta Association, their involvement in the community and this issue. How could you question the morals of a group of volunteers that for over 50 years have donated their personal time and resources for the benefit of the community and its heritage? How much personal time do you devote for the benefit of this community?

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