High Schooler Helps Classmates Roll a Mile in His Shoes

National Seating & Mobility's (NSM) Austin, Texas, branch is helping local high school students and faculty to understand what it's like to live with a wheelchair -- while also raising money for a good cause.

NSM staffers are collaborating with their client Archer Hadley, a student making headlines for his efforts to raise money to install accessible doors at Stephen F. Austin High School, where he attends classes.

Archer, a senior, has cerebral palsy. According to a report from ABC TV's Austin affiliate KVUE, Austin High School is exempt from statutes requiring accessible doors because the facility was built in 1975, before such laws went into effect. Archer, who uses a power wheelchair, said he currently has to wait for others to open doors for him, and that last year he got stuck on a balcony in the rain because he couldn't open a school door to get inside.

As a result, Archer created the "Mr. Maroo Wheelchair Challenge," named after the school's mascot and described on the school's Web site as the "All Access for Austin High Campaign, part of his Academy for Global Studies Program Capstone Project. The purpose of the project is to give back to his community and leave a lasting legacy for students at Austin High School."

Funds raised by the Challenge will go toward purchasing and installing automatic door opening systems at five school entrances, the Web site added.

The KVUE report quoted Archer's mother, Barbara, as saying the door opening systems will cost about $40,000.

To raise awareness of accessibility issues and drum up interest in the fundraiser, Archer devised the Wheelchair Challenge to enable students and faculty to spend a day in a wheelchair.

NSM's Austin branch has loaned seven wheelchairs so far to the effort, says Gary Plakias, ATP.

"We've known Archer for many years and have watched him mature to be a responsible and caring young man," Plakias says. "He holds elective office representing his classmates at Austin High School, and he has achieved the rank of Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America. Worthwhile projects are part of his make-up, so when he approached us about assisting with this one, we were happy to do so."

Plakias says the wheelchairs being used in the project "represent a fair cross-section of types of chairs."

For example, the group includes two "sporty" rigid-framed K0005 ultralightweight chairs - a Colours Wheelchair Saber and a Colours Razor Blade.

"Both have some camber and a bit of dump in the frame design," Plakias says. "Our Ki Mobility rep pitched in a folding-frame Catalyst 5, also a K0005 ultralight. To those three we added two Quantum [Rehab] LiteStreams, folding-frame K0005 ultralights, one with an Acta-Back from the Comfort Company and one with a JAY Back from Sunrise Medical; a Quickie GP rigid frame with swing-away front and Java Back Support from Ride Designs; and lastly, a Pride Mobility Stylus, a folding-frame K0004 chair without center-of-gravity or axle adjustment, so it's more difficult to propel than the others."

NSM staffers made sure the chairs were ready for novice - but enthusiastic and energetic - high schoolers.

"All the chairs," Plakias says, "have cushions, positioning belts, and most importantly, anti-tippers -- most important because the first student viewed in a manual chair in the video is attempting a wheelie!"

The Wheelchair Challenge will run through Nov. 7, and while Plakias and his colleagues have supplied the equipment to make the project possible, Plakias says the real credit belongs to Archer Hadley.

"Archer is the hero here. He has engaged the faculty, his classmates, the public and the media. How can we lose with Samaritans like him?"

For more information about Archer's Wheelchair Challenge, visit the Austin High School Web site or the dedicated fund-raising page.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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