Life in a wheelchair: Students get a lesson in empathy

Local News

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala (WIAT) – A local organization works with able-bodied students to allow them to experience what life is like living in a wheelchair for a day.

Cathy Carver is a physical therapist at UAB and founded ‘Come Roll With Me’.

“We take school-aged kids who are able-bodied out and they get to spend time in wheelchairs. So they get to learn about accessibility, and about a variety of disabilities, about how they can be temporary or permanent,” said Carver.

Several middle school-aged students spent time at the Vestavia Hills Library. They were each given a wheelchair to use to navigate the library, get in and out of restrooms and elevators, use water fountains, figure out how to use exterior ramps, and spend time experiencing the challenges that able-bodied people often take for granted.

“By the end of it, they get a little bit deeper sense of how much time it takes to go out in a wheelchair, the effort it takes, the strength it takes to push a wheelchair, and some of the frustrations that people go through,” said Carver. “By the end of it, the hope is that when they see somebody using a wheelchair, they will look at them and think wow that’s fantastic, instead of oh I feel sorry for you.”

A retired Birmingham police officer who was paralyzed from the waist down while training for an army deployment also spoke with the students and answer their questions about life in a wheelchair.

The ‘Come Roll With Me’ program was founded three years ago. Since that time, 135 students from 50 families have participated. Carver says it is essential children experience a program like this at a young age.

“It’s very important to catch children when they’re young and they’re forming their opinions about people and the world. More of them in this generation are going to go to college with people with a variety of disabilities and they’re going to be working side-by-side with people with disabilities. And if they can learn to be friends and gain respect and appreciation for how people do life that is different from them. At least in this population, maybe we’ll have done something good,” said Carver.

If you would like to participate in the program, you can reach out via email at comeroll16@gmail.com. To learn more about the program click here.

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