Educator uses his wheelchair as a teaching tool

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV) -- Back in 1977, at just 19 years old, Ralph Taylor was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Now in 2017, Taylor is using his wheelchair to teach students that it's OK to be different.

Taylor works with the after school program at Burnley Moran Elementary School in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was hired 22 years ago and he says back then, people doubted his ability because of his wheelchair.

"When I first got the job, I was told that, 'You can't work with kids; they won't listen to you,'" Taylor said. "I'm on disability, but I do the same things other people do. I enjoy life, enjoy being around people and to show that I really can do what everyone is doing."

Taylor is proving he's just like everyone else by playing with the kids at recess, helping with homework and keeping them safe after school.

Taylor says he is very independent. He drives, dresses and bathes himself.

"He's nice, he's confident and he cares about a lot of the students," said third grader Oliver McNair.

Many students are curious about his disability. Taylor says they usually ask a lot of questions, but the question that tickles him the most is kids asking if his wife is also in a wheelchair.

He uses his electric wheelchair as a teaching tool, making kids comfortable with different. To bridge the comfort gap, he's notoriously known for giving out wheelchair rides to his students.

"You go on the back and grab onto the handle," said Oliver. "Sometimes, he takes you for a little ride and it's a lot of fun. It feels like a massage for your feet."

"Some days, I'll have to give them different days because so many kids want to ride on the chair," said Taylor. "I say, 'You're on Monday and I'll get you tomorrow.'"

Liz Taylor's two boys were Taylor's students years ago and she said he always told jokes, was a big University of Virginia basketball fan and that her sons loved the wheelchair rides.

"Such fond memories of Mr. Taylor when we moved here in 2012," said Liz. "They had never been to after school before and Mr. Taylor was one of the first friends that they made."

Over his 22 years, Taylor has created countless memories and left lasting impressions with both students and parents.

"I'm just glad people think about me and see me as a role model, and I take that to heart," said Taylor.

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