The teen, who has been in a wheelchair since he was a little boy, realized that this might be the most effective means to help them understand the difficulties people in wheelchairs face on a daily basis.
At a time when the internet seems to go crazy over the most insane challenges every other day, a Tennessee eighth-grader threw a unique challenge at his state lawmakers. 14-year-old Alex Johnson convinced a group of state lawmakers to spend a day in wheelchairs earlier this month with the aim of getting them to understand the difficulties people in wheelchairs face on a daily basis. Johnson, who has been in a wheelchair since he was a little boy, realized that this might be the most effective means to get the message across as one has to experience them first-hand to truly understand.
According to a news release from the Tennessee House GOP, Johnson—an eighth-grader at Friendship Christian School in Lebanon—has a form of skeletal dysplasia that affects the growth of bones and cartilage. "When I was very little, I could walk at first. The disease I have is skeletal dysplasia. It affects the growth of your joints and your bones," the teen told CNN affiliate WSMV. He first came up with the idea for his “Spend a Day in My Wheels” challenge in 5th grade to help his able-bodied classmates experience the world from his perspective.
"I designed 'Spend a Day in My Wheels' to raise awareness for people with mobility devices. My challenge gives people a real-life perspective of the difficulties wheelchair users face on a daily basis. My hope is that through my challenge we can make the world more accessible," Johnson explained. Wanting to make a difference on a wider scale, the teen approached the state legislature with his challenge and promised them that just a day in wheelchairs would leave them with a lesson for life.
Representatives from both sides of the aisle took part in the challenge on February 11, going about their normal daily activities using a wheelchair. "I have no experience with a wheelchair. Even in a building that is handicap accessible, still, you bump into doors. You bump into walls. Some of the doors become very heavy for someone in a wheelchair. Opening a refrigerator door, doors seem to be a pretty big challenge," said State Rep. Clark Boyd who organized the event. "I expected it to be difficult, but I had no idea how frustrating it could be to just simply get around. It’s really been an eye-opening experience," he admitted.
This is exactly what Johnson set out to achieve—to have lawmakers gain a clear perspective on the challenges faced by wheelchair uses and recognize the need to make the world more accessible to them. "They can influence things. They can help people achieve more independence," the teen remarked. Boyd praised the teen for spreading the message, saying, "Our whole community is very supportive of Alex and proud of the effort he’s made to create greater understanding about what it’s like to live with a disability. He’s an amazing young man who has found a way to use his disability as an ability to educate others."
Speaking to a group of lawmakers on the day of the challenge, Johnson explained that they'd never actually understand what wheelchair users face every day unless they spent a day in one. "I could talk to you for hours and hours about the difficulties people in wheelchairs face on a daily basis. Until you actually sit in a chair, you'll never fully understand. Together, we can change the world one challenge at a time," he said. Boyd also commended the teen for approaching lawmakers with his challenges in a Facebook post that reads: Today I, along with nine of my colleagues in the Tennessee House of Representatives, participated in the Team Alex “Spend a day in my wheels” (wheelchair challenge). This was a very eye-opening experience for all of us. Thank you to Alex Johnson for challenging us and helping raise awareness. You are a true inspiration.
Today members participated in the “Spend a Day in My Wheels” challenge. Alex Johnson, an 8th grader, challenged the legislators to work all day in a wheelchair to raise awareness about the difficulties people with mobility devices face daily. Thank you for your courage, Alex! pic.twitter.com/mtWcyvmHl4— TN House Republicans (@tnhousegop) February 12, 2020