UT Takes On Archer’s Challenge


UT-Austin government professor Sean Theriault walked toward the Tower around 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, voluntarily sat down in a wheelchair, and took an oath not to leave his seat for the rest of the day. He wasn’t the only one.

Last week, people all across Austin participated in Archer’s Challenge, a movement created by sophomore Archer Hadley who was born with cerebral palsy. In an effort to raise money for various charities and philanthropic efforts, Hadley challenges people to spend the entire day in a wheelchair to better understand the life of people with disabilities.

“Living life in a wheelchair is completely different from a ‘normal life,'” says Hadley, who has been in a wheelchair since he was 5. “I want participants to take on knowledge in that perspective—that there is something vitally special, vitally challenging, and vitally different about being in a chair.”

On UT’s designated challenge day, it took Theriault twice as long to reach his destinations. He couldn’t travel any of his regular routes, could barely open his office door, and even arrived late to class.

img_6081“There were lots of times throughout my day that I just would laugh and shake my head because that’s all I could do,” Theriault says. “The most eye-opening thing about it was just the recognition of it not being easy to negotiate campus.”

Now an full-fledged nonprofit, Archer’s Challenge got its start two years ago when Hadley was a senior at Stephen F. Austin High School. He had arrived late to school and was struggling to open the main door. Rain started pouring down his back and he remained helpless until another student finally noticed him from inside. (Federal law does not require school doors to be automatic.)

Hadley channelled his frustrations and created Archer’s Challenge at his school. Students could donate $20 to challenge someone else to spend the day in a wheelchair. Hadley raised $90,000 that first year and has since expanded the program to raise more than $142,000 for electronic doors at five Austin high schools.

Early in the week, local media like KEYE-CBS Austin and Spirit 105.9 took part in the challenge. On Wednesday, participants included staff from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and members of Austin City Council, like Mayor Steve Adler, who declared the week “Archer’s Week.” AISD students and faculty, 70 partners at Austin H-E-B stores, and 70 outfitters at Cabela’s also took the challenge.

On Tuesday, Hadley provided 80 wheelchairs for UT participants and received help from student organizations like the Texas Wranglers and Absolute Texas. President Greg Fenves, who came out to support Hadley, says that Archer’s Challenge is a great way to educate students on issues surrounding accessibility.

“We want the campus to be open and accessible for all students,” he says. “And for every student at UT to get an education and be successful, and that includes students with limited mobility.”

file5-1The funds raised by last week’s Archer’s Challenge will be donated to the Rosedale School in Austin, which caters to children with severe special needs. Principal Elizabeth Dickey says the money raised will help provide an additional two handicap-accessible entrances to the school and improve its outdoor area and playground.

“Anytime me we have a chance to share this world with other people it’s very important to do that,” Dickey says. “Shifting our perspective is so important and there are so few chances to experience someone else’s way of life. That’s why I think [Archer’s Challenge] is so powerful.”

Photos, from top: Danielle Lopez, Anna Donlan, Danielle Lopez.


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