In 1996, Archer Hadley was born prematurely, at just 26 weeks. After spending the first few months of his young life in the ICU, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects body movement, muscle coordination and balance. Since the age of five he has used a wheelchair for mobility.
But while cerebral palsy has constrained his body, it has not constrained his spirit. Archer has used his disability as a platform for empowering others – of all abilities – serving as a motivational speaker, encourager and change agent.
Archer found his passion while he was a student at Stephen F. Austin High School in the heart of Austin, Texas. An active and engaged student, Archer coached football and participated in a variety of student activities. His welcoming manner, friendly style and approachable personality made him a popular student, well-liked by students and faculty alike. But it wasn’t until one rainy day that he experienced an incident that would set him on a path to his current purpose.
Running late for class, without his regular aide in site, Archer set out to get to class on his own, forgetting that getting to his third floor class required an elevator and a short trip across an uncovered patio – it also required opening a door he couldn’t manage on his own.
Archer found himself sitting outside while rain poured down his back, unable to force his hands to open the door manually. He had to wait until someone came by and saw his predicament to let him in. It was that moment, when others might have given up or fired off a protest, that Archer decided to turn his frustration into action, and do something about the lack of electronic doors on his campus.
He conceived of an initiative called “Archer’s Challenge,” which would raise money to fund electronic doors at his high school by challenging students, teachers and administrators to spend the day in a wheelchair. The challenge had the stated goal of raising money by asking students, faculty and parents to pay $20 to “challenge” someone to spend the day in a wheelchair. It had the more profound and lasting impact of forcing able-bodied people to begin to truly understand the challenges of navigating their normal routines while in a wheelchair.
The challenge was a resounding success, raising enough money to install five automatic doors at Austin High School. It also funded a roof to cover the patio where Archer initially sat in the rain. Texas Governor Greg Abbott attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the new doors, and a short documentary he and a few fellow students made about the project won awards at the White House Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival.
Archer eventually brought the challenge to five Austin high schools, with more than 1,400 Austin ISD high school students and faculty participating. Archer, an Eagle Scout, also sought the help pf the Boy Scouts, who had more than 300 participants in a separate event. The Challenge raised more than $112,000 in donations and more than $142,000 in in-kind donations. Eventually, 17 doors were installed in five Austin high schools.
In January 2016, Archer received the Kelly Davidson Memorial Outstanding Philanthropic Youth: Award from the Austin Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). In August 2016, he received the International CARTER Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy by the National AFP.
Now, as a sophomore on the UT Austin campus, Archer is taking his challenge to the next level, and creating a new nonprofit: The Archer’s Challenge Foundation. The Foundation will work to raise awareness of the mobility challenges many public places present to those in a wheelchair. Through the Foundation, Archer will work to support wheelchair challenges in communities across the country, raise funds to improve wheelchair access in public places, and empower and inspire those in the disability community – and beyond – to pursue their dreams.
Watch The Archer Hadley Story
Director: Ben Root, Alex Treviño
Executive Producer: Gilberto Garcia
Producer: Ben Root, Emily Potter
Cinematographer: Khunal Parkash
Editor: Ben Root, Emily Potter
Additional Credits: Production Sound: Emily Quinn Potter, Key Grip: Keirra Ewah