Ryan Starnes is a happy child.
He is a 12-year-old sixth-grade student at Colfax-Mingo. He has a younger brother, Taylor, who he gets along well with, he has a lot of friends in school, he is involved in church activities, he gets to play music in the school band and he enjoys playing outside and playing video games. He doesn’t need much more in his life.
A new van sure would help though, and that is just what Ryan and his family are hoping for as they enter the National Mobility Awareness Month contest. The contest’s winner will receive one wheelchair accessible vehicle at a value of roughly $40,000. For Ryan and his family, who have to pay for travel to and from medical facilities regularly, this prize would be life-changing.
Ryan has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, a disorder impacting brain and nervous system functions, such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing and thinking. He cannot walk and uses a power chair for his mobility.
The problem is, Ryan and his power chair are quickly outgrowing his mother’s handicap accessible van.
Ryan’s mother, Sheri Peterson, purchased the van two years ago and she said that it has been the cause of immeasurable trouble since then. The van has proved unreliable, breaking down before one of the family’s regular trips to Ryan’s doctors in St. Paul, Minn. The four-wheel drive on the vehicle oftentimes doesn’t work, which makes for difficult winters on the hilly streets of Colfax.
The family is hesitant to plan long trips in the vehicle now, fearing that they’ll run into trouble far from home.
More importantly, the van barely fits Ryan anymore. He recently got a new power chair. While the chair has increased his mobility and quality of life, it has made travelling in the van more difficult. The power chair can barely fit onto the van’s lift, and once inside Ryan cannot turn. This means that on his five-hour drives to Minnesota, Ryan is stuck facing toward the side-wall of the van.
Whether they win the contest or not, Ryan and his family are content with the fact that it is raising awareness for mobility issues.
“I want people to talk to me about it,” Ryan said. He described how frustrating it felt to be stared at in public, for people to be interested in his situation and yet remain distant.
“I don’t mind talking about why I’m in the chair,” he said. He said he only wishes that people would take that step and ask him.
Peterson agreed about raising awareness surrounding mobility issues. She hopes the limited bullying Ryan experiences will decrease, although her optimism is guarded.
“Even if we don’t win, that’s OK,” she said. “We just hope that people will be more compassionate. We want them to be more understanding of people with disabilities, and to know that Ryan is just like the rest of us.”
Voting is currently open on the contest. Ryan’s story can be read and you can vote for him at www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/ryan-starnes-colfax-ia/. One vote may be submitted per IP address per day until the voting closes on May 10.