Community involvement is an important aspect of WP Engine culture. In fact, one of the main core values that define who we are is aspiring to lead and committed to giving back. While we have a dedicated GiveBack team to help organize events and opportunities throughout the year, it’s the participation of everyone across the company that makes our efforts successful.

This past October, we witnessed that same support when ten WP Engine employees volunteered to give up their legs for a day.

The Challenge

Yes, you read that correctly.

The Archer’s Challenge Foundation is an initiative conceived by Archer Hadley, who came to speak to WP Engine about the foundation’s goal to raise awareness of the mobility challenges that are faced by those in a wheelchair in public places. The foundation “challenges” people to spend a day in a wheelchair, allowing those that are able-bodied to begin to understand what our wheelchair-bound friends experience on a daily basis.

The 2017 challenge sought to raise $100,000 to benefit organizations such as Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and YMCA of Austin’s Camp Cypress. CCI provides assistance dogs free of charge to enhance the lives of those with disabilities while the YMCA Camp Cypress is an expanding day and overnight camp that welcomes people of all incomes and abilities.

WP Engine had set an initial goal of raising $5000. We crushed that goal and finished our fundraising efforts at $6,670 by rounding up support from our fellow employees and personal networks. On October 20th, WP Engine joined Austin Mayor Steve Adler and 100 other participants for the downtown challenge. We were fitted with our wheelchairs by 9 AM and set off to experience the day.

WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner gives April Downing a push around the office.

The team immediately learned how difficult it is to navigate in a world meant for those that are bipedal. Every bump in the sidewalk and slight incline would no doubt result in aching shoulders and biceps. It’s a good thing we have great friends at WP Engine who don’t hesitate to lend a helping hand.

Archer noted that navigating around public places is rather difficult and we noticed that rather quickly.  At a stop for coffee, we saw that the doors weren’t automatic. Aside from the difficulties of opening a “pull to open” door, I realized I was juggling between wanting to be independent and when to surrender to my inabilities and ask for help.

“Something as minor as the slope of a sidewalk makes someone manually pushing a wheelchair work much harder to constantly avoid heading toward the street.” –Iker Urquiola, SMB Sales

Luckily, we live in a city with very kind people. Iker Urqiola experienced that kindness when he saw how friendly and willing Austinites were to open and hold doors for someone in a wheelchair. 

Lessons Learned

As CFO April Downing said, “We take for granted being able to walk through any door or even grab a cup of tea on a way to a meeting.”

“I learned to be more patient in my car at intersections,” said Kelly Verdin, Senior AR Analyst. “It was scary having cars impatiently inch up on me when I was trying to navigate a bumpy road on an incline when I had the crossing signal. It’s one thing if a pedestrian is lollygagging across the road, but I’m definitely more aware that someone struggling in a wheelchair is probably not trying to annoy me.”

The most important lesson for the WP Engine team that day was a lesson in empathy. While we had fun exploring the city from our chairs, this is a reality faced by millions of people every day. At the end of the day, we were able to walk away from our chairs and go about our lives.

We extend our thanks to Archer’s Challenge for giving us this opportunity to give back and, more importantly, gain an important perspective on the challenges faced by our friends in wheelchairs.