TERRE HAUTE —
Don Rogers is an associate professor at Indiana State University, a husband, father of two and an avid bass fisherman.
And since a motorcycle accident at age 21, he has used a wheelchair to get around.
Yet the disability has not slowed Rogers, something Rick Burger of Duke Energy discovered Monday as the two spent a few hours together in downtown Terre Haute as they participated in Disability Awareness Through Experience (DATE).
The program, part of Disabilities Awareness Month, is aimed at involving community leaders in firsthand learning about coping with sight, hearing and mobility limitations.
“I am fortunate that I am still able to do pretty much everything that I want,” he told Burger, while showing photos and video of a fishing trip he took this month to a lake on the Texas/Louisiana border.
Rogers can use his quadriceps and the inside of his hamstring muscles, allowing him to operate a vehicle without the use of hand controls. Plus, two plastic braces on his lower legs allow him to stand and move along the side of his vehicle to the front seat.
He uses a sport wheelchair, weighing just 25 pounds, that he easily stores in the back of his vehicle.
“He is amazing,” Burger said. “The strength that he has, with his attitude, can carry a lot in anyone’s life, not just those with disabilities or special needs,” Burger said.
“I think if we all had half the attitude that Don carries, it would really make a life different. I have known him over the years here, but didn’t know he could do all this,” Burger said of Rogers’ hobbies and physical ability, such as using his wheelchair to go down large steps.
“I think he is an ambassador,” Burger said of Rogers’ role in the community and serving as a board member of the Wabash Valley Independent Living and Learning Center.
Rogers, 57, is an associate professor at ISU, directs the university’s recreation therapy program and directs the Keystone Adventure program at ISU’s Sycamore Outdoor Center. He and his wife, Nancy, met at Indiana University while the two completed their doctoral degrees. Nancy is associate vice president for academic affairs at ISU. The couple has a teenage daughter and son.
Yet, after his accident in 1976 in Galveston, Texas, Rogers said he faced several questions about his future.
“I am lying there in bed down in Galveston. I didn’t know anybody with a disability and I didn’t know what the hell this even meant,” he said. “I was lying there and trying to figure this out in my head. I wasn’t in a rehab, where anybody could answer questions for me very well.
“The loss was pretty powerful at the time. You know you are still who you are inside, but now there is this feature that is so overpowering and you have no answers to the questions. You pretty much have to get out there and answer the questions yourself. You have to go out and find what this is going to mean,” Rogers told Burger.
“I think for a lot of folks with disabilities, the answers are imposed upon them for a variety of reasons. If you live in a community where it is not very accessible, there is not much transportation and there are a lot of attitudinal barriers, things like that, the answers that are imposed upon you seem to be very restrictive,” he said.
“I was fortunate as I got involved in wheelchair sports right away,” Rogers said. “So I met guys who were very active, who themselves were answering these questions for themselves and getting on with their lives. They had families, they were going to school, some of them had their own businesses. It was a very positive role model for me. There was just never any doubt in my mind that I was just going to do what I wanted to do.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted to have this happen to me 100 years ago, with the technology now and the civil rights legislation that has passed and public awareness, [it] is better,” Rogers said. “I think sensitivity about the issues [is] better. People are willing to listen and people genuinely want fairness.”
Rogers said Terre Haute is a city which generally is good for the needs of those in wheelchairs. He said about 12 years ago, he visited City Hall to ask for handicapped accessibility in his neighborhood. About a month later, all four corners at 12th Street and Barbour Avenue got curb cuts for wheelchairs. “It was because of the request,” Rogers said.
“I have always understood the power of the in-person piece. You go in and make eye contact and shake hands and talk about your needs. I think people tend to respond,” he said.
Rogers said one thing he sees the Terre Haute community needing is “more recreation and sports-related types of things that need to be made available to the folks here with disabilities.” Rogers said he still returns to Texas two or three times a year to visit friends, several of whom are disabled.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@