UT students and Austin community members sat down in manual wheelchairs to raise awareness for wheelchair accessibility in six events across Austin this month, led by UT student Archer Hadley.
The initiative, called Archer’s Challenge, began Oct. 14 and ended Saturday and featured one event on the West Mall last Wednesday. Challenge participants spent part of the day moving through their everyday life in a wheelchair.
Hadley was born with cerebral palsy and has spent most of his life in a wheelchair. Hadley started the movement a few years ago in Austin as a high schooler and hosts the challenge to raise money for organizations that work with people living with disabilities, such as Canine Companions for Independence and YMCA of Austin’s Camp Cypress.
Government sophomore Hadley said more students participated in the challenge on Wednesday than in the previous year.
“The spirit of service that’s around our campus is absolutely amazing,” Hadley said. “It astounds me every year I do this.”
Carrie Dyer, public relations representative for Archer’s Challenge, said Hadley exceeded his fundraising goal for this year before all of the events were even over.
“Archer’s goal was to raise $100,000 … and he’s raised $109,000,” Dyer said. “And that might update.”
KVUE reported that since the first Archer’s Challenge in 2014, Hadley has raised over $230,000 for improving accessibility in Central Texas.
This year, Austin Mayor Steve Adler also participated in the challenge. On Friday’s challenge in downtown Austin, Adler and others joined at Republic Square, where Adler read a proclamation of support for Hadley and the initiative.
The mayor’s support is a testament to his leadership in the city, Hadley said.
“There are a lot of leaders in politics that put on a face,” Hadley said. “(Adler) is a really tremendous leader for this city … he really cares about the people.”
Archer’s Challenge is a type of disability simulation, or an activity meant for able-bodied people to simulate the experience of a disability.
Government sophomore Caroline Graves said disability simulations help able-bodied people understand issues related to accessibility and can help raise funds for advocacy and awareness.
“Disability simulations can be powerful because they put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and they kind of help you change your perspective on maybe something you personally don’t experience,” Graves said.
Graves said although disability simulations are helpful in showing able-bodied people obstacles those with a disability sometimes face, they cannot fully make someone understand what it is like to live with a disability and can contribute to negative stigmas.
“If you’re an able-bodied person participating in this, at the end of the day, you’re able to go back to being able-bodied,” Graves said. “If you gain any empathy or understanding from this, it should not turn into pity … people with disabilities don’t want a pat on the head.”
The challenge will continue again next year, Hadley said, and the success of this year’s challenge showed him that young people are trying to help make better accessibility possible at UT.
“It was so inspiring and so uplifting to me to see these young people thriving for this, and they just inspire me and give me hope for the future,” Hadley said. “The world is a pretty dark place sometimes, and we need some light.”