Kevan Chandler and his friends set off for a trip across Europe in 2015. But their trip was different than most other backpackers' experience: On this trip, Kevan was in the backpack.
Kevan was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that limited his mobility. Stories of their travels went viral online, gaining millions of views and support from around the world. They have used their Internet fame to help redefine accessibility. And this week, they shared their story with WAB as part of our Distinguished Speaker Series.
"Deep down every single one of us desires to play – in other words, to be unhindered, to be free. That includes the disabled community, which I am a part of," Kevan told a crowd of more than 100 at WAB's Founders' Theatre. "All around the world what I've seen is that we put limitations on others, and we put limitations on ourselves. If we work together, if we help each other out, then the sky's the limit. We can do so much more."
This was the thinking that drove Kevan and his friends to embark on their travels. They were just a group of friends who wanted to enjoy the world together, and Kevan was determined to do so without his wheelchair.
They did not plan to go out and change the world or become famous. When their story began to gain traction, they realized that they could inspire people around the globe.
The group began receiving messages of encouragement from strangers. Disabled and able-bodied people from around the world wrote messages of gratitude for the message they began to spread. They continue to make travel plans to keep their journey alive, including several opportunities to speak in countries worldwide.
"Doors kept opening, and we just kept walking through them," Kevan said.
Recounting the story of a six-mile hike to the top of a mountain, where Kevan's friends put him down in the backpack and experience the moment for himself, he said, "When people help people, we can experience things we never imagined to be possible."
Part of Kevan's message to the WAB community was about the challenges of his school experience. Facing a daunting entrance into public school, Kevan's stressed that his high school history teacher was one of the most positively influential people. The teacher made an extra effort to help Kevan get notes, because he couldn't write them himself. For essays or exams, Kevan's teacher invited him in after class to complete the assignments orally. It was that special dedication of the teacher to offer Kevan the chance to succeed based on his individual needs that inspired Kevan and gave him confidence to exceed his own expectations.
As Kevan and his friends continue to plan travels and speak publicly about their experiences, they have also taken it upon themselves to help others in their situation. They partnered with a backpack company to begin building prototypes for models that would serve the needs of a variety of people with disabilities. To learn more about their efforts or to contribute to their cause, visit the Donations page on the We Carry Kevan website.