Take a seat, learn lesson: Leaders to spend time in wheelchairs

Instead of “walking a mile in my shoes,” elected officials and other government leaders are being urged to “roll a mile in my chair.”

That’s the challenge that local advocates for the physically challenged are making in their invitation to “A Day in a Wheelchair,” part of the month-long Walktober event in Columbus.

Beginning as early as 7:30 a.m. Oct. 27, community leaders will spend their morning in a wheelchair, experiencing what life is like for people who use them every day.

Other than being assigned one 30-minute task to perform, the invited participants will be asked to spend the rest of that morning trying to tend to their normal business.

While using restrooms, opening doors or finding alternative to steps or stairs, the experience is expected to create a new awareness for public servants who make decisions involving Americans With Disabilities Act compliance and creating new roads, event spokeswoman Laura Garrett said.

“Our goal is not to call out anybody or point fingers,” said Garrett, who works with the Healthy Communities initiative at Columbus Regional Hospital. “It’s just increasing understanding.”

After the experience, the leaders will convene at 11:30 a.m. in Columbus City Hall for lunch and to share their experiences, Garrett said.

While a number of people assisted, it was Columbus city councilwoman Laurie Booher who has most strongly advocated the event, she said.

So far, about half of the 25 elected leaders or government department heads invited have agreed to participate, Garrett said.

People who work in social services or for private industry may be asked to sit in for government officials who cannot participate, she said.

Sponsors of the event are Columbus Regional Hospital, the Human Rights Commission of the city of Columbus and Access-Ability, which is providing wheelchairs for the event.

Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.