Trying life in a wheelchair

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily News Editor
and Adam Glanzman, For the Daily
Published September 15, 2013

About 40 members of the University’s chapter of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity gathered Sunday for the fourth-annual Wheel in their Shoes 5K. But instead of lacing up tennis shoes in preparation of the event, the brothers lowered themselves into wheelchairs for the trek across campus.

The two-hour event, which began at the University of Michigan Health System’s Cardiovascular Center and continued across Central Campus, was held to raise awareness for people with disabilities among the University community.

The 2012 event raised about $1,500 for Push America, a national non-profit that serves people with disabilities. LSA junior Nicholas Guys, Pi Kappa Phi’s philanthropy chair, said they expect to raise roughly the same amount of funds in 2013.

Guys said the 5K is the fraternity’s largest event of the fall, and, in addition to raising awareness, the event also allows the brothers to gain a better understanding of the difficulties of using a wheelchair for mobility.

“The point of the event is for us to learn firsthand about ways that we can make campus a little bit more accessible for people with disabilities,” Guys said. “Because as ... we all know from doing this, it’s really, really tough.”

In addition to those in wheelchairs, other members of the fraternity helped to push their brothers up hills and keep them on course. As the caravan made its way down from the Cardiovascular Center, a few members slid into the street or off into the bushes. A minor traffic jam was caused when the brothers crossed State Street on their way to the Cube. One wheelchair lost its tire.

LSA senior Paul Willar, a member of Pi Kappa Phi, said the event can be an “eye-opening experience” that shows how inaccessible campus can be for handicapped persons.

Guys said the hills and potholes around campus are especially difficult for those with physical disabilities. He said he has been working with the University’s Office for Institutional Equality to improve accessibility, but progress has been slow.

The brothers also handed out fliers to curious passersby. Nursing sophomore Asa Smith stopped briefly to chat and offer support.

“When I saw them passing by I really wondered if they all had disabilities,” Smith said. “Then I saw their shirts, and I thought it was really cool.”

Though the 5K is the fraternity’s most visible event, they also host other events to raise funds, including a charity dinner for students, faculty and community members with disabilities.

“It’s good for us to learn and to build some solidarity,” Guys said.