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Education

Austin Students Spend A Day in Wheelchair To Raise Money for School Accessibility (Update)

UPDATE: Through the All Access challenge, Archer Hadley raised over $82,000 to go towards automatic doors for Austin High School, doubling his initial goal.

Original post (Oct. 28, 2014): An Austin High School senior with cerebral palsy is inviting students and staff at Austin High to challenge themselves, and each other, to spend one school day in a wheelchair. The goal is to raise enough money to install five automatic door openers at the school. 

Inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, senior Archer Hadley created the challenge in which each participant is nominated and pays $20. If you deny the challenge, that’ll also cost you $20. It lasts for the next two weeks, and Austin High students and staff can challenge anyone to participate.

When Austin High School freshmen Lily Harris and Carmen Larkin heard about the Mr. Maroo Wheelchair Challenge, they looked at each other and decided to nominate one another.

On Monday morning, they walked into school and then sat down for the rest of the day in wheelchairs. 

After the first bell rang, Harris and Larkin immediately learned navigating a wheelchair through packs of students is difficult. Many students don’t see them right away, and had to jump out of the way to avoid a collision.
 
“I just made them avoid me, I’m not moving," says Harris. "Navigating through the people and trying to run over the people. I see this one girl in a wheelchair and she just sits and stays still during lunch because there's so many people moving. So, it seems really hard to get around."  

Austin High School was built before 1992, so it’s not required by law to have automatic door openers, but the school has three floors and lots of doors separating different portions of the building.

That can make things tricky.

Plus, it takes a lot longer to get around. Harris and Larkin have most of their classes in the same hallway, but Harris has Mandarin in one of the portables outside.

“Well, I had to go up this big ramp. I just kind of stopped," Harris says at the end of the school day. "But I didn’t roll backwards. I just took a long time to get up.”

Plus, there’s only one wheelchair accessible bathroom. But Harris, Larkin and Hadley, all say the biggest issue is the doors.

Hadley has cerebral palsy and has been using a wheelchair to get around Austin High School for the past three years. He says once he took the elevator to the third floor, which opens up to an open-air balcony. Then you have to open a set of heavy doors.

“I was trying to practice independence and hadn’t realized it was raining so hard [that day] and I took the elevator up to the third floor. And I was like, 'Wow it’s raining, I’m going to be stuck in the rain,'" Hadley remembers.

Without his cell phone, Hadley says he wouldn’t have been able to tell his aide where he was. He says that experience inspired him to organize this event.

At the end of the day, Harris and Larkin meet up. Larkin says she’s just excited to walk again.

“My legs kind of feel all wobbly right now," she says as she stands up. "Opening doors are horrible. We'd have to open it and gun it, just go for it, push it open and run to the door and [wheel as fast as possible.]"

Installing automatic door openers might make that a bit easier. Hadley hopes he'll be able to pay for it in a couple months.

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