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Rolling Nation: Lewiston pastor using music to fund wheelchair accessible vans

Chris Wylie, a white man with short brown hair and a mustache, plays a keyboard in front of his computer and microphone. He's wearing a cassock, or black gown worn by ordained ministers, and two stoles. The top stole is rainbow, the bottom is red. He's also wearing a blue baseball cap that says "Love Wins" and rectangular glasses. Behind him is more instruments and soundproofing foam.
Rev. Chris Wylie - DJ Pastor Rock
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YouTube
Chris Wylie, known as DJ Pastor Rock, performs "Dying From The Day We're Born" in a YouTube video that was submitted to NPR for the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest.

"An entry level decent accessible van is about $70,000. To me, it so unaffordable," Christopher Carden said.

Carden works at Main Mobility, one of two BraunAbility dealers in Buffalo, where vans are converted to be wheelchair accessible. But for a lot of Americans, a wheelchair accessible van is out of reach.

"I find out of probably 100 phone calls I get looking for wheelchair accessible van, I would bet 90 percent of them can't afford," Carden said.

"I'm Chris Wylie. I'm an ordained United Methodist minister, elder specifically, and I'm disabled and I'm also a musician."

Chris is pictured smiling at the camera, wearing a cassock, or black gown worn by ordained ministers, and two stoles. The top stole is rainbow, the bottom is red. He is a white man with brown hair and a salt and pepper beard. He is wearing black rectangular glasses. Behind him is dozens of red chairs.
Chris Wylie
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Chris Wylie is pictured in an undated photo, wearing his United Methodist vestment.

Wylie knows how expensive it is to get a wheelchair van. While he financed the vehicle and makes a $528 a month payment, the modifications can't be financed under the car loan. Carden says financing is a common problem as you typically have to buy the van, then pay for it to get modified to your needs.

According to the website Consumer Affairs the cost typically ranges from $20,000 to $70,000 for the van and another $15,000 to $30,000 for the modifications. The price tag is similar for vans that have already been converted.

Carden says some loans exist to cover the total cost but only about 80 percent of it, as the loan is seen as higher risk. Converted vehicles, in Buffalo, last about 10 years, and the resale value decreases rapidly.

"I've always been disabled, but I wasn't a full time wheelchair user. And I didn't need a wheelchair van until I did. And then once I did, I learned really quickly how expensive it is, how difficult it is, to fund and finance and everything," Wylie said.

Wylie got a small state grant, paid $3,000 out of pocket and crowdfunded the remaining $9,000 to have his van modified. Carden says many people seek out grants from nonprofit or government organizations or have to crowdfund. Depending on the type of disability you have, there may be more or less funding available.

Service-disabled veterans can get an automobile allowance and adaptive equipment grant through the VA, up to $22,355. If you’re the parent of a child with a disability, you may be able to get a Home and Community Based Services waiver. However, Carden says families often buy the vehicle, and have to wait months for the waiver to cover the conversions, and families don’t get to choose which company, or where in the state the vehicle will be modified. And for those who acquire a disability, such as through injury, there are even less options.

"If we got injured tomorrow, no one's gonna pay for an accessible van for us. And that leaves this huge black hole of people that are really stuck at home," Carden said.

Christopher Carden stands smiling at the camera. He has short salt and pepper hair, and brown eyes. He is wearing a blue Main Mobility button up shirt, with a black tee-shirt visible underneath. His hand rests on the converted wheelchair accessible van behind him.
Emyle Watkins
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WBFO News
Christopher Carden stands in front of a converted van at Main Mobility.

The problem is not everyone ends up getting enough grants or crowdfunding. Sometimes, someone’s story will make TV news, and a huge donation will be made to one person, but then other people go without.

Carden has long believed that if small donations could be collected from many people, and then distributed more equally, more people could be reached.

“If we can get out to the masses to donate a small amount of money. I mean, could you imagine the gratification you could have," Carden said. "At the end of the week, someone could say, you know, you just bought a van for the Smiths, who couldn't go anywhere.”

That's where Wylie comes in.

Wylie started playing drums when he was 17.

Chris is pictured sitting behind a white drum set, smiling. He is a white man, wearing a black sweatshirt, green pants, black rectangular glasses and a baseball cap. Brown hair pokes out from under the hat, and he has a long brown and grey beard. The room he is in is carpeted and has white walls. On the front of his drum set, you can see the brand name “Maxtone” in large letters, and a sticker at the bottom that says “ADA The Americans With Disabilities Act" in black text on a white background. Below it, there is a red box with white letters, that says “To boldly go where” before it goes out of frame.
Chris Wylie
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Chris Wylie is a life-long musician. He started playing drums at 17 and has now turned his passion into an album that will help fund wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The music he's wanted to make has always been on his mind, but with cerebral palsy, not all instruments were physically accessible.

"The barriers were being able to hear things in my head that I physically couldn't play," Wylie said.

But technology has changed so many things, including how we make music, and a couple of years ago, a few fellow musicians showed Wylie how he could do it all with a computer, a keyboard and a microphone.

Wylie is able to produce his music using Logic Pro, a computer program that allows you to compose music with virtual instruments.

Since, Wylie has been able to produce and release his first album last week, Rolling Nation, as DJ Pastor Rock.

"The album itself is kind of... the idea is holding on to hope that love is bigger, even amidst a world where we often don't see that. So the arch of the album is sort of that way too, like, you know, I'm disabled, right, so I live in this disabled body and a lot of times that means exclusion and marginalization from non-disabled society," Wylie said.

Wylie is collecting donations in exchange for his album, which will go into a community fund, also named Rolling Nation, to benefit people whose vans are being made wheelchair accessible. The album, like the cause, has a lot to do with liberation, love and fighting for access.

"So, my first song is again a rap song and it's called Bringing Fire, and that one has a line in it. And I always kind of watch for people's reactions," Wylie said.

“Hanging on the margins
I’m here and I’m proud
Build me a ramp
Or I’ll burn you to the ground
I'm bringing fire”

"But it's not really just about being angry. It's about being liberated, and about how the force of love is liberatory," Wylie added."

Wylie's goal is to start by distributing four $500 grants each year, over the next two years, through Main Mobility. He's already raised over $4,000.

To learn more about Rolling Nation, click here.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.