Matt Lassman’s daughter Penelope, 5, needed to get her “vehicle” washed. But instead of heading to one of the local car washes in Evanston, Mr. Lassman and his daughter drove to Over the Rainbow, 2040 Brown Ave., on June 30 for the tenth annual Wheelchair Wash.
Penelope, diagnosed with cerebral palsy, was able to get her wheelchair washed by family, friends and local community members.
“These wheelchairs get so dirty because [wheelchair users] spend a majority of their time in them,” says Mr. Lassman. “People eat their meals in them and ride all day in them. Wheelchairs are like soles in shoes. They need to be fixed and replaced frequently,” he adds.
The annual Wheelchair Wash was started in 1997 by members of the Beth Emet Synagogue as their “Mitzvah Day,” a day dedicated to those who are less fortunate. Beth Emet asked Evanstonian Patrick Hughes to organize the event at Over the Rainbow, an independent-living facility for individuals with physical disabilities. Since then, he says, he has never looked back.
“The goal of the wash is to clean wheelchairs and for people to make connections,” says Mr. Hughes. When he was only 19, Mr. Hughes realized his passion to work on behalf of those with disabilities. A student at the University of Kansas at that time, Mr. Hughes met a man with autism whose friendship made him see the way those without disabilities react to those who have them.
“I realized that regular people don’t know how to connect with people with disabilities and it drove me nuts,” says Mr. Hughes. In 2000, he created Inclusion Solutions, a company that works with businesses to improve access for people with disabilities.
“This event makes people realize how hard it is for those who have disabilities and the progress that still needs to be made,” says Mr. Hughes. “If people get to know each other, it will get to a personal level, and improvements will be made without even blinking.”
Some community members, such as Lisa Howard, brought their families to the Wheelchair Wash. “We don’t know anyone who is disabled, so this is a great way for the whole family to gain experiences and meet the residents at Over the Rainbow,” said Ms. Howard.
Kids splashed water with Over the Rainbow residents while getting wheelchair rides. Mr. Hughes explains that this is the essence of the Wheelchair Wash – to “make kids not intimidated of those who are physically disabled and ask the questions that the adults are afraid to ask, further making the connection.