WINSTON-SALEM — When it comes to redefining limits for people with disabilities, Kevan Chandler is ahead of the pack.
His revolutionary backpack has allowed him to be carried across the world and partake in handicapped-inaccessible experiences, like walking the Great Wall of China, dancing in the streets of Paris and scaling 600 stairs to see an Irish monastery.
Now Chandler is hoping the specially-designed backpack that has changed his life can help others with disabilities embark on both grand and daily adventures.
“It makes the world more accessible by adjusting your own situation,” said Chandler, who has spinal muscular atrophy and is wheelchair-bound. “I think it provides opportunities for friends and family to do things together in a way they’ve never been able to before.”
Partnering with German company Deuter, Chandler has built a fully-adjustable backpack that is geared toward carrying kids and adults up to 70 pounds who have disabilities, like spinal muscular atrophy, spina bifida and cerebral palsy.
The backpacks — modeled after toddler-carrying packs — have a seat, an adjustable neck pillow, pockets, a hydro-pack and wrist straps and stirrups that can be lengthened, shortened or removed.
“The wrist straps are Velcro so they can stick on, say if a child has spasms when they get excited, they can be held down a bit more,” said Chandler, a graduate of John Wesley College in High Point, now Laurel University. “It’s very adjustable.”
Three hundred backpacks are set to arrive at a Greensboro warehouse this week and are for sale internationally.
The backpack can accommodate 70 pounds, including the rider, pack and contents.
They cost $375 each and are available online at wecarrykevan.com.
“This is the culmination of a lifelong effort and lifelong experience,” said Chandler, who grew up in Winston-Salem and now lives in Indiana. “We want to use the backpacks as the launch-point for a bigger conversation on what accessibility looks like and how that should be centered around people helping people.”
The first version of the backpack, designed by Hudson’s Hill, a hand-stitched denim-and-leather apparel company on Elm Street in Greensboro, was originally created as a means to allow Chandler to travel to Europe in 2016.
Chandler, 33, left his wheelchair behind for the first time in his life and was carried by his friends for three weeks in the backpack, a journey that he documented in his newly-released book “We Carry Kevan.”
In 2018, Chandler and his friends traveled to China, where they visited orphanages for kids with mobility and developmental disabilities and donated some of the modified backpacks.
Ben Duvall, who carried Chandler on the Great Wall and through parts of Europe, said the backpack is pretty easy to use from the carrier’s perspective and has padded shoulder straps and chest and waist belts that clip together.
“It’s a comfortable pack,” Duvall said. “I think what’s cool with Kevan in there is we can experience things together.”
Chandler — who has a degree in counseling and used to worked in prisons and drug rehabilitation centers — now works full-time at the nonprofit he founded, “We Carry Kevan.”
He said the primary focus at the nonprofit right now is to distribute the one-of-a-kind backpacks to as many people as they can help.
“The two years in between the two trips we got to interact with a lot of families and hear their stories. We realized that the backpack provided hope,” Chandler said. “I think it really validated what we were doing and showed us the real depth to which this can go.”
Chandler — who was wearing an “I want to live in a world without disability stigma” T-shirt at his parents’ Winston-Salem home Friday — said families have already used the backpacks for many wheelchair-inaccessible activities, like hiking, trips to the zoo and rides on the merry-go-round.
The backpack has changed his life and allowed him to do things he never thought possible, said Chandler, who is the youngest of three and the second in his family to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy.
“We’re really excited because this can help people all over world, from all different walks of life, adults and kids alike,” Chandler said. “The backpack is the start. The possibilities that it opens up and the conversations that it starts is a big thing.”