Allyship at work for people with disabilities: a man carrying another man in a backpack through the woods, both smiling with disabilities
Outside Business Journal

Portraits of Allyship: Luke Thompson

Caregiving takes on many meanings when you carry your best friend on your back just so he can have access beyond where a wheelchair could take him

Allyship at work for people with disabilities: a man carrying another man in a backpack through the woods, both smiling with disabilities
Gabaccia Moreno

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Kevan Chandler and Luke Thompson have been friends for over a decade. Chandler is an author, founder, and public speaker who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare neuromuscular disease that causes people to lose motor function throughout their lives. Thompson, an able-bodied photographer, and videographer has taken care of most of the media needs of We Carry Kevan, the nonprofit Chandler founded to redefine accessibility as a cooperative effort. 

The two musicians got to know each other through gigs. One day, Chandler asked Thompson if he would document an upcoming trip to Europe, on which  he would leave behind his wheelchair and be carried by his friends instead. Thompson agreed to help, and it changed his life.

“Luke documents most of what we do at We Carry Kevan,” says Chandler .“But he has also carried me and done caregiving. So I think he has a really cool perspective, because he’s seen the work from both sides.” 

Before working with Kevan, Thompson hadn’t had any exposure to disability. He admits “it’s been a huge learning process for me. I’m always learning. I never will stop, really, but it was zero to 60.” Thompson had to catch up fast, and it has been worth it. “It’s definitely been one of the most meaningful things that I’ve experienced. It’s had a strong impact on me when it comes to developing empathy and awareness.“

Man with green shirt, gray pants, and red hair in wheelchair behing towed by an ally on a skateboard
After a 2016 trip to Europe in which a group of friends banded together to carry their friend Kevan around Europe, they formed a 501c3 called We Carry Kevan, whose mission is “to mobilize individuals with disabilities by redefining accessibility as a cooperative effort through investment, interaction, and innovation.” (Photo: Courtesy)

“We live in a culture that really pushes this idea of being independent and living independently. But I get a lot more done when I invite people into my life. And it turns out better and the experiences become richer and more beautiful. It means I get to pour into their life as well,” says Chandler. 

On gaining perspective

“[Disability] is a real experience for so many people,” says Thompson “And it’s something that can be overlooked by the able-bodied community, where we can sometimes get locked into our own experience and not have that empathy and perspective. It’s not that we’re in two different camps. We just, you know, have different ways of experiencing life.

On why everyone needs to practice allyship

I feel like everyone needs an ally. Whether it’s right now in your life, or in the future, you’re going to be on the receiving end of allyship at some point. And I think that being an ally is going to put you in a space where the receiving is going to be there.. I love Kevan’s perspective, though, because he says ‘let’s look at the positive result of helping you gain access. And show how that benefits everybody.’”

On the challenges of practicing allyship 

“It’s all about receiving information, being open to criticism, and being open to failure because you’re going to do stuff that is super well-meaning, but it’s just not well received,” says Thompson. “The ego can get in the way. But you have to be aware of that and push beyond it and think of how I can ask a question that might avoid this in the future?”

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