Riding for a cause

Xavier Smith • May 3, 2017 at 3:04 PM

Friendship Christian School students and staff took a ride in the shoes of a fifth grader Wednesday to raise awareness about the daily challenges of people with disabilities.

Four teachers and two students participated in the Team Alex Challenge – Spend a Day in My Wheels, which was formed by fifth grader Alex Johnson. The purpose of the challenge was to bring awareness and educate the general public about the common everyday struggles of people with disabilities that use assistive mobility devices, such as wheelchairs.

“I wanted to raise awareness for people in wheelchairs because most people don’t realize that it’s a little harder than we make it look because we’ve been doing it our whole lives,” said Johnson, who said some of his typical struggles include using the restrooms and maneuvering through crowds.

Participants spent the day confined to a wheelchair and conducted their normal routines, along with some challenges presented by Johnson, such as visiting different areas on campus.

Terri Seagraves, Johnson’s teacher, said although she sees Johnson daily, participating in the challenge opened her eyes to some of the difficulties he faces.

“One of the things that really bothered me today was some of the difficulties he has going over some of my rugs in my classroom. I didn’t really realize that until I’m having to go over those rugs, and I can’t get over them,” said Seagraves, who added other challenges included space inside the classroom and the width of some doors.

Student Samuel Hollis said the challenge Wednesday wasn’t as difficult as it could have been.

“The one thing I thought about the most is whenever it’s snowing or iced over and you can’t get around those things that you can when you’re walking,” he said.

Student Rebecca Pettross said the challenge gave her a different perspective.

“I think putting myself in his position gives me more empathy to understand the things he has to go through. It makes me more aware. I never realized the challenge of opening a door and going through at the same time while in a wheelchair,” she said.

Teacher Greg Armstrong, an avid extreme runner, said simple tasks presented a challenge.

“Trying to use your wheelchair and drink your coffee is nearly impossible. It never occurred to me,” he said.

Armstrong said his ministry often installs wheelchair ramps for people, and Wednesday’s challenge opened his eyes to the shortfalls of federal regulations.

“It’s vague if it’s an actual code that has to be enforced as far as the steepness of the ramp. There have been times in the past – obviously because it’s a lot easier and use less material if you make it as steep as the code requires. I’ll never fudge on that again,” Armstrong said.

Johnson’s father, Nathan Johnson, said his son never complains about his situation, but wanted to help others in his situation.

“He’s never been a complainer. We’ve dealt with this since he was born, and when he started walking is when we started noticing the symptoms of his form of skeletal dysplasia. He’s always been a doer,” he said.

“I’m with him everyday, and I didn’t think about some of the stuff he said were difficult.”

“It’s like we’ve seen it for the first time. We see him here everyday, but it’s like today we’ve seen these challenges for the first time,” said Aaron Sain, Friendship Christian director of marketing.

Sain said officials would use Wednesday to help improve certain areas of the school for people with disabilities.

Other participants included teachers Darci King and Jeremy Hawks.


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