“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." -- Anne Frank

Kathy Bates

I’ve learned many things from my family. My mom and my sister have both taught me about art and nurturing my creativity. My dad and brothers have given me my love of sports and many opportunities to live life to its fullest. My parents were fierce advocates for me, especially when it came to my education. I learned to advocate for myself and others by watching them. Teaching children to advocate for themselves and, eventually, others is one of the most important gifts you can ever give them.

In this post, you will meet Bodhi Bhattarai who is a lot like any 9-year-old boy. He is a fourth grader who attends Broken Ground School in Concord NH. He says his favorite subjects are math and snack time. He loves building things with his enormous collection of LEGO bricks (which I am quite sure will continue to grow). His favorite video game is Minecraft. He participates in karate classes after school and has just earned his purple belt.

Bodhi is very comfortable explaining why he uses a wheelchair to anyone who may be curious. “I tell them that I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy and it makes my muscles weak, so I have to use a wheelchair.” But Bodhi doesn’t just have any wheelchair, his power wheelchair comes complete with a Spider-Man head joystick. Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a neuromuscular disorder.  It affects the motor neurons in the spinal cord and causes weakness in the skeletal muscles of the trunk, legs, and arms. But this does not stop Bodhi from participating in the activities that he enjoys.

Bodhi and his parents met with me at Gibson’s Café and Bookstore. His mother, Déodonné, who is the Communications Director at the Disability Rights Center – New Hampshire (DRC-NH), sat in on the interview. I wanted to make sure we had some fun, so I opened with a question that I thought Bodhi could relate to. If he could have one superpower, what would it be? He quickly answered, “Super speed!”  I thought to myself, well he already has that one covered!

Bohdi smiles for the camera, holding his certificate of achievement and his new purple belt. His Sensei is down on one knee, next to Bohdi's wheelchair.

I asked Bodhi to show me a few of his karate moves. I told him, “I don’t know the first thing about karate or what it took to earn a purple belt.”  He explained, “Well, once you learn a move, you get a stripe on your belt. You have to learn five different moves and then the Sensei will shout out moves in any order he chooses. If you successfully perform those moves without forgetting anything, then you earn a belt. With each belt, the moves get harder.” His mother explained, “He uses a manual chair for Karate, and he works really hard at it. The Sensei has been great at adapting the routines for Bodhi. We tried two other studios before we found a good fit.  One studio up on the Heights told me they had ‘neither the staff nor space’ to include Bodhi in its classes. When I first spoke to Bodhi’s current Sensei, I told him that my kid just wanted to be a ninja.  He said, awesome, I can’t wait to have him in class.”

What makes Bodhi unique is that he is already establishing his reputation as a budding young advocate. He has testified in front of the Concord City Council and the New Hampshire State Legislature about the need to make playgrounds more accessible for everyone with varying abilities. I was excited to talk with Bodhi about his mission.

“It felt like going to court. I was a little scared and a little excited at the same time.”  I could relate to what Bodhi was saying about giving testimony before the legislature. In his own words, Bodhi spoke clearly about how not being able to access the playground felt “lonely and boring.”

House Bill 467 relative to public playground accessibility  only pertains to the ground surface of the playground. The bill requires public playgrounds constructed on or after January 2024 to use ‘resilient solid surface material’ for accessibility. It’s impossible to drive a power wheelchair over wood chips without sinking.

Bohdi smiles as someone off-camera holds an empty picture frame in front of him that reads "Concord, NH" at the top and "City Council" at the bottom.

Bodhi made sure I understood, “It is a big deal but . . . that just means I can get onto the playground. It doesn’t mean I can play with what I want” We all agreed that the legislation was a step in the right direction but there was more work to be done.

Bodhi’s neighborhood playground, White Park, is the largest one in the city of Concord and is where all his friends go to hang out and play. When the issue came up at the City Council meeting, Bodhi was there to talk about how important it was to make the playground accessible for everyone.

In his testimony, Bodhi had total command of the room as he spoke about his mission. He had everyone laughing when he said, “If you make the playground accessible, I might even play with my little sister…but probably not.”  The mayor reminded Bodhi that he should always be nice to his little sister and said that Bodhi was clear, concise, and gave some of the best testimony he'd ever heard. 

In partnership with the city, Friends of White Park, a nonprofit that assists in the care, and improvement of White Park, has raised over fifty thousand dollars to redesign and rebuild the park’s Monkey Around Playground and make it inclusive. The new playground designs are available here.


From Where I Sit …

My conversation with Bodhi left me feeling more hopeful for the future of the disability rights movement. Children love to imitate adults in their lives. Assume they are watching because they are. Encourage them to talk about their goals and then listen. Adults can help by having high expectations and letting children make some decisions for themselves. Advocacy always requires goals and a vision. Adults should always be there to provide support because independence is a myth; we are all interdependent.

You'll find more information about the ADA and playground accessibility on playgroundsafety.org.