India Sims can do everything you can do — just sitting down
I got a call from Ryan Homes in the summer of 2019. My family and I were qualified to purchase a home in Glenmore, a gated community in Albemarle County. The agent told us to visit the model homes the next day.
I was excited and called my husband; we decided I would go see the homes while he was at work. When I pulled up to the side of the house, I noticed there were steps to the front, side and back doors. I called the sales consultant — no answer. The garage door was open and there was an open house sign, so I blew my horn. No one came out.
Finally, I called my husband and told him that there was no one there. Someone came outside and asked if they could help. I told them I had an appointment to see a home that I am potentially purchasing.
“India? Come on inside.”
I asked if there was a ramp anywhere on the house, so I could get inside. She brought a manager who said no, we do not build ramps.
Several months after my visit to Glenmore, the company told me they have no accessible models in Charlottesville and I’d have to go to Williamsburg, almost two hours away, to see the only model home that they could show me that had a ramp.
(Editor’s note: The person who handles Ryan Homes’ media relations, Curt McKay, told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the company does not comment to the press as a matter of policy. The events in this essay were documented in emails with Ryan Homes employees in 2019. Ryan Homes’ parent company, Virginia-based NVR Inc., is one of the largest home builders in the country and operates in 15 states.)
We went to look at multiple houses in different places that summer; none of the companies we tried to work with had made accessible entryways for people who have disabilities. Over the next few years, we stopped looking for a home to buy around Charlottesville.
And that’s not fair.
In Charlottesville, racism is recognized as needing action to change. Discrimination against those who are disabled, though, might be seen as wrong, but our community does not want to do anything to fix it.
In Charlottesville, many places aren’t accessible. The Downtown Mall has bricks and small entryways to stores. Many stores have a step to get in. It’s a historic place but it doesn’t mean that it cannot accommodate everyone. If you can put up a handicapped parking sign, you can make the city accessible to all.
I’ve been through the same pattern of being overlooked or discriminated against in other parts of my life. People just don’t accept who I am as a woman in a wheelchair and they can’t accept the fact that I can do everything the same as them — just sitting down.
An employee at an amusement park a few years ago told my husband that I shouldn’t get on a ride. I put up my hand and said, “I’m down here. My husband doesn’t talk for me, I talk for myself.”
I asked him, “When I’m talking to you, are you looking at my physical appearance or are you listening to me?”
He said, frankly, “I am not listening to you. I am looking at your physical appearance.”
I said, “Why?”
He said, “I never imagined an individual in a wheelchair that could talk and ask questions the way that you do. Normally, people in chairs have someone speaking for them.”
I said to him the reason why is because the people who are disabled are afraid to speak out because of what I am experiencing today. I finally got on the ride.
In the workplace, people aren’t usually so direct because they don’t want to get sued. They just be rude. I have to go through versions of this educating people and fighting discrimination when I apply for jobs as a beauty specialist, go to a restaurant just to eat, shopping — people are overly cautious instead of letting me be normal.
I am speaking, I am talking, I am showing, but no one is listening. It feels like I am placed in the back of the bus, but like Rosa Parks, I want to sit in the front. I want to sit where I want, be who I want, and I want Charlottesville and the surrounding areas to not just understand — or be inspired — but change something about how inaccessible we’ve made our neighborhoods.