MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week kicks off the Twin Cities Pride Festival in Minneapolis. July is also Disability Pride Month — a time to celebrate people with physical and mental challenges.

After two long years, Twin Cites Pride will soon be back. Kris Oullette, a Mankato native, is the director of security for the large-scale event. Oullette, who is paralyzed from the ribs down and uses a wheelchair, heads up a large security team.

“I was paralyzed at 22 … so I was quite young and, you know, I didn’t really have that sense of community,” Oullette said. “And then coming to Pride, that was actually really the first time that I was able to engage in something that was fulfilling and where I felt like I had a purpose again.”

He says the two communities correlate.

“You’ve got people that are just more conscious of the inclusion of other people because they’ve been excluded, so you’ve got that bigger sense of community,” he said.

(credit: CBS)

And this year, Pride will be more accessible than ever before to those with disabilities, as they strive to be more inclusive each year. For instance, there is a wheelchair accessible platform that elevates people so they can see the performance stage more clearly. There will also be more accessible bathrooms and parking spaces, a low sensory tent and American Sign Language interpreters on hand. In fact, Nic Zapko — who serves as Gov. Tim Walz’s ASL interpreter — is a co-grand marshal of the celebration.

“We have plenty of people in the LGBT community that also have disabilities, and being able to bring that together, you know, it’s maybe a little bit more consciousness than anything,” Oullette said.

And that’s what he says is the point: Making room for everyone to safely and freely have fun.

The Pride Festival in Loring Park is free and runs all day Saturday and Sunday. There is a new guide with all the accessibility information.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield