He’s never let his disabilities stop him from following his dreams.

In fact, Columbus native Ryan Schroer keeps himself pretty busy.

“I’ve always been more active than many disabled community members,” the 35-year-old said.

Schroer has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, but he has made it a point to go out this summer and experience his hometown like never before.

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As part of the Love Where You Live challenge — which began July 13 and wraps up today — Engage Columbus has been using its Facebook page to post challenges that local residents can compete for prizes. Some of the challenges have been intellectual, such as writing a poem about Columbus, while others have been more physical, such as visiting a local farmers market.

With a little help from a friend, Schroer has tried to tackle them all.

“I’ve lived in this town for 35 years, and I thought ‘I’ve seen and done everything,” Schroer said.

But it turns out, there were several things in Columbus that he had never seen.

Take, for example, the infamous giant toilet in kidscommons.

Like most Columbus residents, Schroer had heard tales that the attraction elicits awe and wonder from children, but he’d never seen it himself.

That is, until the Love Where You Live Challenge gave him the opportunity to see the toilet up close and personal and even hold a replica in his hands.

“It’s never natural to hold a mini toilet bowl in your hands,” Schroer said. “My whole life is based around routines and patterns, so it’s nice to get out of your comfort zone.”

But as he travels around Columbus and learns about all the city has to offer, he’s reminded of a time when it wasn’t so easy for him to be part of his community.

“Columbus didn’t used to be as friendly to disabled people as it is now; because before the Americans with Disabilities Act, there wasn’t any incentive to do so,” he said.

As a child, Schroer remembers being unable to go into a local movie theater because there were steps to the entrance and no wheelchair ramp.

His mother would try to persuade business owners to adapt their stores for children such as him, but often to no avail.

“You couldn’t understand why you were being excluded,” he said.

But when the federal government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, things slowly started looking up, Schroer said.

He’s now able to travel in a Dodge Caravan that’s specially designed for his wheelchair.

“Everywhere we went, we could find parking for his van,” said Melissa Fairbanks, a friend who assisted Schroer with some of the Love Where You Live challenges he completed. “Driving around and realizing that wherever we go, I can park and push the button, and he can easily get out, that to me is really important.”

As she’s traveled around Columbus with Schroer, Fairbanks said she’s witnessed firsthand the transformation in how residents with disabilities are treated.

When Schroer gets out of his van, he’s met by people willing to make his life as easy as possible, she said. Sometimes that means moving a chair out of the path of his wheelchair, and other times it means taking him to a special entrance that’s designed for those with disabilities.

Every time someone offers these acts of kindness, Fairbanks said, she sees Schroer light up.

“This summer showed him that it really has changed, and that the community is willing to make changes,” Fairbanks said.

Each time he visited a local business and completed a challenge, Schroer — and all other participants — was entered in a drawing for a prize, including Columbus T-shirts and gift cards. Participants who completed bonus video challenges were eligible for special mystery prizes.

For Schroer, that meant winning a piece of art created by a local artist.

“It’s got the state of Indiana and Columbus, and Columbus is marked with a heart,” he said.

At the capstone Love Where You Live Celebration tonight, four participants who completed at least 12 challenges will be randomly selected to win one of the grand prizes, which include an iPad mini, a $500 Visa gift card, a night out in downtown Columbus package and a day spa package.

Schroer, who is qualified for the grand prize drawing, said he’s eager to see if he’ll win.

“You better believe I’ll be there,” he said.

While Schroer said he’s loved being able to see more of his city and win some prizes along the way, his participation in the Love Where You Live Challenge likely will enhance his career, as well.

“I think I’ve met people that I ordinarily would not have met,” he said. “I’m trying to grow my network as a writer and become a little more visible.”

Now that he’s had a taste of all that Columbus has to offer, Schroer said, he’s looking forward to forming more connections throughout the city that he’s proud to call home.

Because, while many people with disabilities are tempted to remove themselves from society, Schroer said he’s proud of the way he tries to live life just like everyone else.

“I’ve exceeded expectations my entire life,” he said. “I intend to keep doing that in the future.”

List of challenges

Love Where You Live Challenge participants had to take pictures of themselves while they were:

  1. In the kidscommons at the giant toilet
  2. Reading The Republic
  3. On the People Trails
  4. At the “We Are From Here” art show
  5. Eating at a local restaurant
  6. At the Heritage Fund office
  7. At the Engage Columbus office
  8. Writing a poem about Columbus
  9. At the United Way of Bartholomew County office
  10. At NeighborFEST with a new friend
  11. At the Visitors Center, watching the video
  12. At the Bartholomew County Public Library
  13. At a local farmers market
  14. At a Columbus bike rack
  15. Around town with friends
  16. At City Hall learning about local representatives
  17. With a receipt from a local business
  18. At Columbus East or North high school
  19. In front of a piece of public art

Participants also could complete bonus video challenges, which required them to take videos of themselves while they were:

  1. Doing a favorite activity at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair
  2. Standing in front of a favorite piece of Columbus architecture
  3. Performing a random act of kindness
  4. Playing at their favorite Columbus park
  5. Dancing to “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis
  6. Talking about why they love Columbus

If you go

Love Where You Live Celebration

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today

Where: Outside the Heritage Fund and Engage Columbus offices, Franklin and Sixth streets

Who: Open to the public

What: Love Where You Live Challenge grand prize winners will be announced.

Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.