Real Hunger Games: Hundreds of Disabled Americans Compete for One Wheelchair Accessible Van

The problem of lack of public services and health care access in America is often talked about in the abstract, but it has a very real human cost. For one example, take a look at the National Mobility Awareness Month Local Heroes contest, put on by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, which is partnering with Chrysler, Toyota and other auto companies for the event.

In this contest, you can nominate a disabled American you know as a local hero and say why you think they deserve to win a wheelchair accessible van. Web visitors then vote on these individuals and whoever receives the most votes will win a van.

The stories are heartbreaking. Consider this one from Rami Dechmand, who cares for his two younger brothers. He entered the contest to win the van for his younger brother, Dillon, who has had Cerebral Palsy since birth. This is how he explained his family’s need for the van:

As Dillon gets older and grows bigger, it gets harder and harder to lift him in and out of the car. I feel that soon he will get to the point where he is bigger than me and it will be nearly impossible for me to do this, and I would no longer be able to care for Dillon. Having an accessible van for Dillon will allow our family to better provide the care Dillon requires.

Or consider the case of Walter Edwards, Jr. Here’s why a relative entered him into the contest:

My father, Walter “Sonny” Edwards, Jr., turned 80 in November, 2012. He and my mother (his caretaker), live on social security. We have been trying for years to get them a van with a side lift but can’t find one we can afford. My dad has become very weak so it gets harder and harder to get him in the car to take him to doctors appointments. He has has several back surgeries and the last one he had in 2000 left him with no feeling from his knees down to his feet. He has been wheelchair bound for 13 years now. My dad has had bladder cancer a couple of times in the past but is now in remission. He lives 24 hours a day with a catheter due to constant UTI’s and he has no control on going to the restroom. He most recently had cancer of the abdomen and was having chemo once a week for eight weeks. Next month he starts a treatment once a month for four months. He also was just diagnosed with glaucoma. My dad has always been a down to earth, gentle man and he and my mom deserve a van. My mother has had three hernias because of trying to lift and help my dad so yes, they both deserve it. Both of my parents have a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone, so now it’s their time. Thank you!

You can read more of the stories here. There are hundreds of contestants. And at the end of the contest, only one will win the wheelchair accessible van. Essentially, these disabled Americans are competing for votes for the right for one of them to have affordable freedom of movement.

This is a situation that would not exist in many other countries, where generous services exist for those who are disabled. In Sweden, for example, the country has a national agency tasked with ensuring dignity and opportunity to those who are disabled. Through local municipalities, it offers subsidized transportation services through taxi cabs and special para-transit units to disabled people with the goal of making personal transportation for those who cannot utilize mass transportation just as affordable and accessible as public transit. In other countries like Belgium, public transportation is mostly free for disabled residents.

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