Charles Lewis: Welcome to First Person Cville, the podcast. I'm Charles Lewis, your host, and also the co-host of In My Humble Opinion, from 101.3 FM. Today's episode features India Sims, author of: “India Sims can do everything you can do — just sitting down.” India describes herself as “a woman in a wheelchair” and she wants you to know that she can speak for herself.
Charles Lewis: When someone thinks of India Sims, what strengths come to mind?
India Sims: That girl can do anything that she puts her mind to. Like if she says she's going to do it, she's going to find a way. She's a go getter. At the end of the day, my children, they don't see their mom as struggling. Right. Right. They see their mother as. Okay. Well, this is a goal. What–how she's going to overcome this today? So let's see! That's how they describe me, as a go getter.
Charles Lewis: When she’s not fishing, swimming, skydiving, or bungee jumping, India is working to change how able bodied people treat disabled people. Her mission is to get the City of Charlottesville—and its residents—to recognize that wheelchair accessibility is just an everyday reality. But so far: no one is listening.
Charles Lewis: How do people interact with you when they see you?
India Sims: Oh, lordy. So. First, when people see me, they look at me like I'm this foreign object like. Disrespectful. Walk past. No politeness at all. That's how they see me as just a creature. But when people. Talk to me and get to know me and I'll speak to them. They'd be like, “Oh! She can speak. Oh, she doesn't need help.” Then they start grasping who I am. And understanding a little bit that, “Oh. She's a human.”
Charles Lewis: So we know that that you and your husband are looking to purchase a home and touring them was a barrier. Can you explain what what issues you faced?
India Sims: So first of all, when I got approved, I explained to them that I was looking for a unique home because I'm the only disabled person or unique person in the house. And they were like, “Oh, that's fine. You know, you can come and look at some homes. You know, fine.” But when I went to go look at the home, I had to stay outside because it was all steps. There was no way for me to get in. So I called. Nobody answered. I blew the horn. Nobody answered. I'm like, “Okay.” Then somebody looked through the door and they were like, “Oh, can I help you?” And I was like, “Hi, I'm India.” And they were like, “Oh, hi, Come on in.” And I'm like, “You remember? I don't know who I spoke with, but you remember I told you I was, you know, in a wheelchair.” And they were like, “What do you want me to do about it?” Wow. And I said, “Excuse me?” And they was like, “There's steps here.” I said, “Well, I'm by myself. And y'all knew that I was by myself. Y'all help me.” “Oh, I can bring some blueprints to you.” I said, “You mean blueprints as paper?” And they were like, “Yeah.” They were like, “Well, you can figure it out that way.” I said, I would refuse to do that. And they were like, “Well, I don't know what else to tell you.” And they walked away.
Charles Lewis: So what would have been, in your opinion, the ideal response?
India Sims: So the ideal response is, “Okay, this woman has a disability. There's going to be more people that may have disability. So let me figure a way before she gets here, let me figure a way for her to get into the building.” Whether it is to get a portable ramp or either have some people help me up there, I shouldn't have to have someone near me in order for somebody to understand me and to grasp that I need assistance on certain things. And I say key word: certain things. Right. Um, so that would have been the ideal. So they should have already been prepared for me to come there instead of wasting my time and disrespecting me.
Charles Lewis: Talk about a time where you were denied accommodations or experience an undue burden in other places around the city.
India Sims: Oh, my gosh. Don't even get me started. You can't go to a restaurant without being frowned upon. Shopping the same way. You know, you don't make any kind of accommodations for you. Downtown is impossible because you have bricks, which I understand. Fill the bricks in, make it a little bit more easier for people to get in. Or push. Or if they're in a walker, it doesn't have to be a chair. There's no accessibility around Charlottesville. I know so many people around the world. A lot of people that are disabled are afraid to even show their face. I get contact like thousands of people contact me that are disabled, and they'd be like, “Hey, how where do you live?” I don't even tell them where I live. And that's sad. I would tell people not to come. Because I don't want them…because there's a lot of people that are disabled that are not going to be as strong as I am.
Charles Lewis: So you're also a professional businesswoman stylist. But because of your physical disability, you run into discrimination. What can you share with us about that experience?
India Sims: At first they wouldn't even accept me in the school. They wouldn't even take me into cosmetology. And it makes me so sad and it makes me want to cry sometime. But um Herman Key from the Charlottesville Cardinals, went into that cosmetology school and was like, “You're going to accept her and you're going to allow her to be who she wants to be.” And I took on my own as being a massage therapist and institution and now tech. And I took it and I ran with it. I was like, you know what? I'm going to have all these degrees and I'm going to make a building and I'm going to make it accessible for people that are disabled. And there's nobody going to stop me, but there is somebody that's stopping me. Charlottesville. They didn't care. I went to all these people asking for their help. They wouldn't help me. So then I went myself and I started a go fund me. So I am still doing it. I am still trying to raise money. I am still trying to get a building. It's just. With my business. I got to prove to people that I can do it. With my home, I got to prove to this that I got this and I got that. It doesn't matter if you have good credit. It doesn't matter if you have a deposit. It's so much and….Charlottesville. I'm going to say it. Charlottesville put this big persona that they love everybody and they accept everybody, and they'll do whatever they want for everybody. I'm here. Start on me. Start on someone that actually wants it and will work for it. I was thrown away after the doctors paralyzed me. So if anybody knows how to how to salvage and put things together and hold it in place, that's that's me.
Charles Lewis: So for the people listening to this podcast, if they could take one thing. What would you want it to be?
India Sims: Actually. Listen. Look. The way that you want to be heard and the way that you do things. We want to do it the exact same way. Stop judging. Stop. Thinking that we can't be who we want to be. Just because you don't see many of us that are disabled, does it mean that we…we don't exist. Just because you don't believe in it. There was somebody that didn't believe in you one time. It was somebody that you had to start from the ground up at one point. That doesn't mean that it's impossible. So stop judging.
CL: India Sims is on TikTok at one unique chair girl—that’s the number one, unique chair girl. She is actively raising money through Go Fund Me for her accessible salon. You can find her First Person Cville essay at www.charlottesvilletomorrow.com.
We want to hear your story and tell the story of our community together. Share your perspective with First Person Cville at cvilleinclusivemedia.com/projects. The First Person Cville podcast is a production of Charlottesville Inclusive Media. It's hosted by me, Charles Lewis, and the In My Humble Opinion Talk Show.
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This episode was produced by Kelly Jones. Music from Epidemic Sound. IMHO theme music is from God Vamps by Miguel and Morse with NYC bangers on production.
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