Every morning as the sun starts to peek through the curtain and my children start to stir in bed next to me, I reach over, grab my tablet, and take a few minutes to cruise Facebook. It's the only time of day I really spend just cruising and not working (I conduct a large amount of my business via Facebook). Usually, I just take time to read status updates, make comments, and read articles I've saved for later. But in May, those early morning moments have become a space for something else. My first priority when I pick up that Kindle is to find Jared's group, learn the mobility fact of the day, and flip over to the NMEDA website to cast my votes.
You see, my friend Jared is entered into a contest that could help him win a much needed wheelchair accessible van. May is National Mobility Awareness Month, and I have to tell you, those of us without mobility challenges NEED Mobility Awareness Month. I was woefully unaware of the challenges in my own hometown until a local teacher and mother of a friend was affected by ALS, and confined to a wheelchair. I remember seeing her one day on Main Street, and she mentioned that she can't check her own post office box because the local post office isn't wheel chair accessible. I was shocked, because I'd never even though about that. Jared deals with the same challenges.
Jared is a part of daily life here in our small town. We see his smile as we enter the coffee shop on sunny days, and we see him wheeling to the park on bright, dry mornings. But on rainy, snowy, or excessively cold days, Jared stays home. With no way to transport his powered wheelchair, his independence is limited by weather conditions. Even on dry days, it takes him longer to get around town than it would take me to walk because he has to plan his route carefully - many sidewalks are not wheelchair accessible, some roads don't even have sidewalks, and many areas are not safe for pedestrians at all.
Jared, and all people who have mobility challenges, deserve better. Being able to get into and out of business and government buildings, and having a safe passage through your home town, shouldn't be limited to those of us who walk around oblivious to how easily our mobility can be taken from us.
As parents, Jared's presence in our lives is such a blessing, not simply because of his sweet, fun loving personality, but also because Jared is normalizing physical differences for our children. He lights up when he sees my four year old bouncing toward him, and my four year old recognizes Jared as no less "able" than the rest of us. He delights in their commonalities, in fact. Jared loves to hang out in the coffee shop just as much as my son, and they both chat with everyone who walks through the door. I recently heard my son exclaim, "Jared knows sign language like me?" Jared has been introducing himself to my daughter since before she was born, and she always returns his bright smile with one of her own. To the children (and adults) in our small town, Jared is just another friendly face, just another person deserving of experiencing small town life and all it has to offer. He's also more than that - he's an inspiration, a true testament to what can be overcome with a positive attitude and determination.
But Jared needs a van to transport his powered chair. He doesn't have enough range of motion in his arm to operate a manual chair independently, and his powered chair grants him the ability to reach out and interact with people, and change (or form) their views on people with mobility challenges.
The National Mobility Equipment Dealer's Association, in partnership with various businesses and organizations, has a Local Heroes contest to help raise awareness for National Mobility Awareness Month. Jared and his family were recently featured in a news story on WDBJ 7. You can find more information here, and you can cast your vote for our local hero here. Please take the time to drop by and cast your vote, every day. You can join Jared's Facebook group, where you will get daily updates on how many votes Jared has, and also learn facts to help you answer the daily question, which helps you earn an EXTRA vote. If every vote counts, your double vote is twice the value!!