Indian Sims can do anything you can do, just sit

I received a call from Ryan Homes in the summer of 2019. My family and I 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 that I would go and see the houses 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 door sign, so I honked my horn. No one came out.

Eventually I called my husband and told him no one was there. Someone came out and asked if they could help. I told them I had an appointment to see a house I’m potentially buying.

“India? Come inside.

I asked if there was a ramp anywhere in the house, so I could get in. She brought in a manager who said no, we don’t build ramps.

This story was published as part of Charlottesville Inclusive Media’s First Person Charlottesville Project. Do you have a story to tell? Here’s how.

Several months after my visit to Glenmore, the company told me that they had no accessible models in Charlottesville and that I had to travel to Williamsburg, nearly two hours away, to see the only model home that she could show me and who had a ramp.

(Editor’s note: Ryan Homes media relations person Curt McKay told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the company does not comment on the press out of policy. The events of this essay have been documented in emails with Ryan Homes employees in 2019. Ryan Homes’ Virginia-based parent company, NVR Inc., is one of the nation’s largest homebuilders and operates in 15 states.)

We went to see several houses in different places that summer; none of the companies we tried to work with had disabled-accessible entrances. Over the next few years, we stopped looking for a house to buy around Charlottesville.

And that’s not fair.

In Charlottesville, racism is recognized as requiring action to change. Discrimination against people with disabilities, however, can be seen as a mistake, but our community doesn’t want to do anything about it.

In Charlottesville, many places are not accessible. The Downtown Mall has brickwork and small store entrances. Many stores have a step to enter. It’s a historic place but that doesn’t mean it can’t accommodate everyone. If you can put up a disabled parking sign, you can make the city accessible to everyone.

I experienced the same pattern of being neglected 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 way they do – just sit down.

A few years ago an employee at an amusement park told my husband that I shouldn’t ride a ride. I raised my hand and said, “I’m here. My husband does not speak for me, I speak for me.

I asked him, “When I talk to you, do you look at my physical appearance or do you listen to me?”

He said frankly, “I’m not listening to you. I look at your physical appearance.

I said, “Why?”

He said: “I never imagined a person in a wheelchair being able to talk and ask questions the way you do. Normally, people who are seated have someone speaking for them.

A woman in a wheelchair is photographed on a brick sidewalk with a stairwell behind her.
“It’s a historic place but that doesn’t mean it can’t accommodate everyone,” India Sims said of Charlottesville. Credit: Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow

I told him it’s because people with disabilities are afraid to speak up because of what I’m going through today. I finally took the train.

In the workplace, people are usually not so direct because they don’t want to be sued. They are just rude. I have to go through versions of this upbringing of people and fight discrimination when applying for jobs as a beauty specialist, going to restaurants just to eat, shopping – people are overly cautious instead of me let be normal.

I talk, I talk, I show, but nobody listens. I feel like I’m placed at the back of the bus, but like Rosa Parks, I want to sit in front. I want to sit where I want, be who I want, and I want Charlottesville and surrounding areas to not only understand — or be inspired — but change something about how inaccessible we’ve made our neighborhoods.

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