Archer Hadley’s Inspiring Work Makes Austin Schools More Accessible for Students Who Use Wheelchairs
Archer Hadley believes that accessibility should be universal – and that’s why he creates awareness through his non-profit foundation, Archer’s Challenge.
The 23-year-old college student, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, navigates life with the assistance of a wheelchair but tackles his everyday obstacles with determination.
From intense workout sessions at Titan Evolution, which is one of five community workout groups featured in our February Wellness issue, to preparing for his last semester at the University of Texas, Hadley is able to juggle responsibilities while running a foundation that’s grown from a high school fundraiser into an annual city-wide event.
Hadley’s first “challenge” took place in 2014 while he was a senior at Austin High School. Originally named after the school’s mascot – he called it the Mr. Maroo Wheelchair Challenge – Hadley wanted to raise $40,000 to install automatic doors at the school.
Hadley would often find himself locked outside the school whenever his aide wasn’t there to open the door for him. One day when Hadley was trying to access a door on the third floor of the campus, he was trapped on the balcony while it was pouring rain.
“This was the straw that kind of broke the camel’s back,” Hadley says. “Not only was I soaking wet and cold, but I was frustrated with the situation. I came home from school, told my mom what happened and said, ‘We have to figure out a way to raise money for these automatic doors because I’m not waiting outside for anybody anymore.’”
The challenge allowed classmates and teachers to spend a day using a wheelchair to experience how the physical infrastructure of the school can be hard or impossible to navigate. Participants could donate $20 to nominate fellow students to take the challenge. The week-long event was so popular among the students that it lasted for an entire month and raised nearly $90,000, Hadley says. That was enough money to install five automatic doors, a roof over the balcony and a wheelchair ramp.
The positive response from the fundraiser inspired other schools to participate, and Hadley brought the challenge to six other high schools in the district.
In 2016, the first city-wide, weeklong challenge took place. From the mayor’s office to news stations to local businesses, members of the community came together to raise proceeds to benefit Rosedale School, which serves students with disabilities.
This year, Archer’s Challenge will be one of the activities at UniversALL Design 2020, an experiential symposium that focuses on inclusive design, whether it’s physical, digital, social or attitudinal.
Hosted by the Page Foundation, the event will be held on March 30th and 31st in Austin’s Second Street District. Hadley will be one of the keynote speakers and participate in a Q&A.
“I have the opportunity to be a leader,” Hadley says. “The opportunity to be a voice for a population that sometimes doesn’t have a voice, and bring an issue to the forefront that really affects everyone … I’m getting to be out in the spotlight. But I’m trying to do it in a way where it’s not about me because this is not about me. I’m just one person with one experience, and with the help of my mom, and some other folks, we’ve been able to kind of grow and have an impact.”
To learn more about Archer’s Challenge or to donate, visit archerschallenge.org.