Army vet who uses wheelchair ranks Charlotte's level of accessibility

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FOX 46's Caroline Fountain took a challenge to see things from another point of view. A friend encouraged her to spend a day in a wheelchair so she could better understand the struggles people face every day.

Don Walters, an Army veteran, helped show her the ropes in uptown Charlotte. Don served two tours in Iraq. During his second deployment, Don suffered a traumatic brain injury and chemical exposure that led to MS.

“There was times where I was like, 'I can’t do this, I can’t function anymore.' There’s a couple times I contemplated suicide because of it. You know. I’ve gotten past that.”

Multiple sclerosis landed him in a wheelchair. It’s progressed so far that it’s difficult for him to push a manual chair.

“So you just have to do things differently now. You have to figure out ways. Otherwise, you can’t just sit back and feel sorry for yourself and be depressed. You still got to live your life.”

Don and Caroline went to the French Quarter, down Tryon Street, and 5th Street. You’d be surprised what they found.

Some of the most popular spots in Charlotte are essentially off limits to people in wheelchairs.

“Feels like you’re not wanted really," Don said. 

Historic buildings aren’t always required to be wheelchair accessible, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be.

“When people tell me that it’s an old building, it’s historical, sorry. That’s not really an excuse,” said Don. He says he’s seen examples firsthand.

“A couple of historical Blues clubs a friend of mine took me to, they had a little metal ramp. When they saw me coming in a wheelchair, they brought it out in Chicago.”

Most days Don says he just shrugs it off when he can’t get into an establishment, but other days it’s not so easy.

“A lot of times where it does become frustrating is when I’m with a group of friends. They want to go somewhere and happens that place is not accessible. So now, you can’t go in with your friends.  So now, your friends also have to go somewhere else because you can’t do what they wanted to do. You might find out that sometimes your friends don’t invite you because they know the place they’re going to you can’t get into.”

Right now, Congress is looking at changing a key part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some say the proposed bill would burden those who use a wheelchair and make it easier for businesses to put off wheelchair accessibility.

FOX 46 asked Don to rank Charlotte for its handicapped accessibility on a scale of 10, with 10 being the best.

“Probably five. The older buildings, yes. I’ve been to some really big cities that are unbelievably handicap accessible. You can’t get any older and that’s Washington D.C. all the monuments, everything, they’re all accessible. You can’t use ‘we’re an old building’. These places have been there forever and they make modifications.”

We asked what Don would like you to take away from his story.

"We’re all different. We’re all different in many ways. Try to be accepting of people who are different. If you have a business, make sure everyone can use your business.”

FOX 46 Charlotte is working to get results for people like Don. We’re contacting the businesses that appeared not to be wheelchair accessible, asking why that is, and if they’ll make changes.