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This is part 3 of our special Portraits of Allyship series, celebrating the people doing the all-important behind-the-scenes work making the outdoor industry more welcoming and inclusive. Read the complete series here.
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.“
“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?”
Are you moved and impacted by people that you consider allies? Celebrate them on social media and use #InspiringAllyship to join the conversation. Let’s show each other what allyship can be.