Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wheelchair awareness between the lines

On Sunday, one of Gainesville's most recognized business owners and entertainers, Brad Heron took our wheelchair challenge and our wheelchair and went bar hopping in a different part of town. He decided to do what he normally does on that day and his staff went with him as always. We made sure that local news would be there as well.  Apparently TV20 featured him in a 6 pm story and the next morning we read all about it on the front page of the Independent Florida Alligator- or so we thought. If you read the newspaper story- you'd conclude that he had a nice time. Went to some clubs, took some shots for awareness. The experiences described were not entirely void of anything deeper. He turned some heads, made some people think. And if that's all that happened - it would have been good enough. Except that it wasn't were the actual story was. What Brad described to us a few days later and what the article covered seemed to be entirely different experiences. He came out of this humbled, inspired, somewhat changed. As we interviewed him on camera this Wednesday he told us he's still processing some of the things that happened and how he feels about it. It was only 24 hours and it's not an experiment he'd gladly repeat. It was frustrating when the elevator that takes you to the pub he usually goes to wasn't running. He'd call up the place to bring out the key and they ended up hanging up on him a few times. Finally, one of the people in his entourage went up there to get it and they were pretty upset. From what we heard, everybody that came with him was upset at one point or another. He couldn't get into the restroom, he couldn't go up and down as he pleased, he felt watched and that made him uncomfortable. Some people were patronizing, telling him he can "make it" as he struggled up a hill. Not your average Sunday night. What his crew believed would be a nice, breezy experiment for a good cause turned oddly personal for them that night. He'd twirl in a chair for a little bit, talk about the Foundation and his experiences- that was the plan but it became so much more. If his experience was as carefree almost as the newspaper described it, our mission would have been much easier. And I can understand if a newspaper catering to the student lifestyle, the bar scene and the pub scene was uncomfortable with the darker, somber undertones. What was strange was the fact that the story didn't mention the Foundation at all- although Brad talked about it plenty- and ignored most of our press release. And an interesting observation: the emotions and the frustrations were real, although the wheelchair used was part of staged experiment. And yet again, a participant talking about having his eyes open and wanting to help make things better. Brad's experience affected the Foundation as well. The young writer from the Alligator, the WCJB TV20 camera crew and his staff were not the only ones following him. The director we recruited for the segment, Mike McShane is now talking about developing the Wednesday material into a short documentary.  We've accomplished a lot that night- even if it's not entirely reflected in the Alligator story. Still, front page on the first day of school is nothing to sneeze at.

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