By Emma Kuechler
Kevan Chandler knows all about redefining what disability means. Kevan was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a neuromuscular condition that causes a glitch in the spinal cord that edits the connection between his brain and his muscles. While it mainly affects his limbs, it is a progressive disease that is always changing. He’s had to adjust to random growth spurts and severe changes in posture, yet he says that his experience has benefited his character in a way that nothing else could. He jokes that he never has to find new challenges to face, because his body will always help him out by throwing a new obstacle at him. Despite this, he sees his condition as an ongoing adventure.
Adventure is a common theme in Kevan’s life. While receiving his Bachelor’s degree in counseling, he worked in a prison fellowship to help inmates transition back into life as an upstanding citizen. At the same time, he filled his days volunteering at places that helped people with overcoming addiction. He believes that it’s important to be equipped with the necessary survival skills to survive life, and he worked to help people work past their own obstacles to be their best self. After college, he went to Europe with some friends, where he worked to help people overcome their challenges.
When Kevan went to Europe, he convinced his friends to leave his wheelchair at home, having them carry him in a backpack. He was staying in a room on the 6th floor with no elevator, so leaving the wheelchair seemed like the obvious choice. Kevan then traipsed across Europe on his friend’s backs, free to travel literally anywhere. While he was not able to move independently, he was able to see the world in a new way, which was equally important as having his independence.
Following the trip, Kevan and his friends published a memoir about their travels, entitled We Carry Kevan. His trip was about helping people, but he was excited to visit monuments that paid homage to musicians and culturalists related to his heritage. Going on the trip helped bring a new perspective to many songs and people that he had always loved, which was a very fulfilling result of the trip. The memoir focuses not just on Kevan’s journey or the people he worked with, but on some of the adventures he got to go on as a tourist as well.
The trip would not have been possible without the backpack he was riding in. Long before he left for Europe, Kevan’s friends devised a hiking backpack that allowed Kevan to sit in it while they explored the North Carolina sewers. It was not very sturdy or comfortable, but it was the first step in finding the product that they needed. They began researching child carriers and studied the framework of the most ideal products. After working with product developers, they were given advice on how to modify the carrier to work for Kevan. Once the group had returned from Europe, they worked with developers to make the backpack a full product that could be sold and given away to people that needed it. The backpack can be found at Wecarrykevan.com. Additionally, you can donate to improve accessibility to the backpack at the same site.
When Kevan and his friends were creating their original backpack, they had funded their adventure through GoFundMe. Through their fundraiser, they met dozens of people that were in awe of his backpack and how he was making travel accessible. Once returning from the trip, Kevan knew that he needed an entity bigger than himself to make sure that the people who needed and wanted accessibility would be seen and heard. He began the process of creating the non-profit, We Carry Kevan, right away.
While the physical backpack helps some people, the principle of the backpack helps many people. Kevan wants to emphasize that his organization is not about “Kevan”, and it’s not about “Carry” – it’s about the “We”. He wants to bring people together and help them see that while they may want to be carried, they also need to carry each other.
Kevan’s story is incredibly inspiring, and we cannot wait to share it with you. Head to our Facebook page on July 5th at 4:00 to see our interview with Kevan.