Caden Nelms

From his wheelchair, freshman Caden Nelms is jump-starting changes in Piedmont’s campus culture through his accessibility activism.
“I had back surgery when I was 9,” said Nelms. “My scar runs all the way from my waist up to my neck.”
Nelms surgery was due to a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy which, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine is a genetic condition that causes the weakening of muscles that are used for movement. What it cannot weaken, however, is a solid sense of humor.
“I want to get a zipper tattooed at the top of my scar,” said Nelms. “It would be hidden, but it’s funny. It’s small and no one would ever see it, but I really want to get it.”
Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a life-long condition that can affect the strength of muscles around the center of the body, which has led to Nelms getting his first wheelchair around the time he started school and then upgrading to a power chair before starting second grade.
“People like to stare, obviously,” said Nelms. “It used to bother me. Now I have a lot of shirts making fun of it, so I could care less.”
One of his custom-made shirts depicts a wheelchair doing a flip and reads “Keep staring, I might do a trick,” and attracted a lot of attention while Nelms was vacationing with his family at Tybee Island recently. A couple who’d had a few too many mimosas at brunch saw Nelms wearing the shirt, thought it was hilarious and asked if they could take a picture with him.
“I thought it was funny as hell,” said Nelms. “I took like five pictures with them. It was the weirdest experience I’ve ever had. I was like, ‘is this what it’s like to be famous?’”
Most people would probably assume that this behavior is entirely inappropriate, and according to the National Disability Institute’s Sensitivity Guide it is. The guide states that “it is important to remember to not show pity or put an individual up on a pedestal – everyone should be treated as equals regardless of one’s abilities.” The keyword: individual.
“It didn’t bother me. I thought it was funny, and now I have a story to tell. I wish everyone was like that honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to walk up to someone in a wheelchair or with a disability and just be open about it, and laugh about it with them.”
Nelms has become an advocate for accessibility around Piedmont by starting conversations about what changes need to be made to make campus life easier for students with disabilities.
“I asked Dr. Smith if students could join the ADA Taskforce,” said Nelms. “Who better to hear from than someone with a disability? It’s worth a shot.”
Dr. Sue Smith, Disability Support Coordinator at Piedmont, recently became a member of the Americans with Disabilities Act Task Force.
“Caden is certainly emerging as a leader,” said Smith. “He is passionate about improving our campus without any selfish motives, but with an attitude of benefitting our entire Piedmont Community. It has been my pleasure to accept his suggestions for improvement and share those suggestions with the faculty and staff.”
Piedmont as a whole has taken huge steps forward this year by building wheelchair ramps, installing handicap automatic door opening buttons, and purchasing a wheelchair-accessible shuttle van.
However, there’s still some room for improvement, and Nelms has organized meetings with administration to talk about how to create the best learning experience for all of the students at Piedmont, including those with disabilities.
“My disability limits very much what I can and can’t do,” said Nelms. “So I’ll Research some jobs and then see that, oh, my disability is going to hinder this part. Sometimes I’ll get discouraged and wonder if Mass Communications is the right path for me. But it’s a very wide variety and I’m very good at what I do.”

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