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How a wheelchair challenge mobilized a high school to become more accessible

March 20, 2015 at 6:30 PM EST
When a student with cerebral palsy struggled to open his high school doors, he challenged his classmates to spend a day in a wheelchair -- a fundraiser to add automatic doors. Not only did he make his school more accessible for everyone, this report by NewsHour’s Student Reporting Lab in Austin, Texas, was one of 15 chosen for the White House Student Film Festival.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: how one student’s efforts changed his high school in Texas and made it more accessible for people with disabilities. It’s the subject of nationally recognized video from our Student Reporting Lab in Austin and tells the story of Archer Hadley, a teenager with cerebral palsy who mobilized the entire school community.

Today, our Student Reporting Lab team arrived at the White House for the second annual Student Film Festival. The president congratulated the young producers for finding unique stories about the importance of giving back to one’s community. Over 1,500 schools submitted films. Fifteen were chosen.

Here is Austin high school’s winning video.

ARCHER HADLEY, Austin High School, Texas: My name is Archer Hadley.

Having cerebral palsy and living in a wheelchair is a completely different experience than anyone with a — quote, unquote — “normal life.”  Because I’m disabled, independence is a little harder for me.

One day, it was raining. As I’m trying to open the door, water is gushing on my back, and I’m getting soaking wet. I tried this for about five to seven minutes. And I got really frustrated. And that was when I realized, hey, I have been to a lot of public places that have automatic doors. Why can’t I do something about this?

CURT SHAW, Construction Management Director, Austin Independent School District: Well, when we first visited with Archer about what his expectations were, he wanted to install automatic door operators on three doors. The cost for each of those doors was somewhere between $5,000 and $6,500 per door in our original estimate.

NICOLE GRIFFITH, Director, The Academy for Global Studies, Austin High School: Archer’s idea was to have this wheelchair challenge.

And the wheelchair challenge involved students being able to challenge others to spend a day in a wheelchair. And if you challenge someone, then you needed to pay $20.

STUDENT: Today, I was nominated for the wheelchair challenge. And so all day, I will be in the wheelchair. I can’t get out of my wheelchair. I will use elevators to go to all my classes.

ARCHER HADLEY: My last participants thoroughly understand why we need the buttons now.

NICOLE GRIFFITH: Obviously, a lot of people came together to make this happen. And that was really neat to see.

CURT SHAW: Archer having raised $87,000, not only did it go toward the original concept of three doors; it went on to be five doors. The challenge was to get all the work that was required for the project completed within the winter break period.

All that work had to be ready for a celebration that was scheduled for Monday January the 5th, when school returned into session.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT, (R) Texas: Anyone with heart, anyone with determination, anyone with focus on achieving anything can achieve things beyond their wildest dreams. Archer is an inspiration, an inspiration for me, an inspiration for so many others.

(APPLAUSE)

NICOLE GRIFFITH: Archer is giving back to his community by providing the ability for students and faculty and any visitor who comes to our school to welcome. This project is going to help the community for years to come, years and years to come.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To learn more about the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs project and see original youth-produced stories from around the country, go to studentreportinglabs.org.

The Austin High School Student Reporting Lab is a partnership with local station KLRU and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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