Meet the man behind the wheels

Junior Alex Rossi shares his story of living with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy


Megan Barton

During Ceramics class junior Alex Rossi glazes his pot before it is fired.

If they understood what I am going through then maybe they might take action and help others like me.”

— Alex Rossi, 11

Meet junior Alex Rossi. He loves playing video games like Minecraft and Halo, is on the academic honor roll and can not help but grin at his dad’s cringe worthy jokes. He’s like any other 17-year-old – and he does it all with the assistance from his wheelchair.

“I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), so it causes my muscles to weaken over time. Even though my wheelchair is like my own personal robot, my disease is something I have to work through my entire life. It’s an everyday struggle,” Rossi said.

Rossi has observed that the student body often lacks an understanding for individuals who are in similar circumstances to his own.

“Sometimes, people jump in front of me when I’m trying to use the automatic door. These people don’t need to use the automatic door, it makes me wonder why they can’t use their own door if they are capable,” Rossi said.

Despite his limitations. Rossi recognizes the potential of Common Ground classes and its ability to promote empathy schoolwide.

“If I could teach Common Ground, I would want to tell people what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. I have to work twice as hard as they do. If they understood what I am going through then maybe they might take action and help others like me,” Rossi said.

According to Rossi, misconceptions about his wheelchair are prominent amongst his peers.

“People are often fearful of individuals in wheelchairs. Their behavior changes and a lot of times they just ignore me. They don’t say hello. They avoid eye contact. They can’t look past the wheelchair to see just me,” Rossi said.

Rossi believes people’s lack of knowledge about his condition has lead to social isolation.

“Most people don’t take the time to understand your disease or what you are going through, so I think the fear of wheelchairs is caused by not understanding. Because of this people reach out to me only some of the time,” Rossi said.

Rossi’s disease has controlled many portions of his life, yet throughout the years Alex feels that he has grown as a person.  “I feel that I am stronger and living my life is easier than it once was.”

Rossi is inspired by his personal convictions, and he wrote a letter to the students and faculty in an effort to provide his perspective.


While it is all well and good to say that I have to bring to your attention how students disrespect other students, the real problem is much deeper than those people who have been disrespected and have not spoken up.The real problem is fear.
The school faculty fear getting involved. Which, in turn, keep the school faculty from being the leaders that they should be. Only the school faculty can set the tone, create and enforce policy.
The survey results show that a group of people who have amoral attitudes and act out with that mindset are being supported in those actions by the school faculty. That support comes from no real, sustained, public consequences. Also, ignoring the problem is affirming the actions. And too, I would go as far to say that the support of a certain demographic of students who are white, affluent, involved in sports and are in the “popular” clique also supports the continuance of the disrespectful behavior.
The action you spoke of during the assembly was to “monitor the halls.” Wasn’t this already being done? And by saying this as a follow up to the survey results, and it was already being done, aren’t you communicating that we are going to do nothing as a faculty?
What about the parking lot? Have you seen the chaos in the mornings? If you want to see disrespect in action, spend time in the parking lots in the mornings. Speeding, recklessness, uncalled for “driver courtesy” and lack of safety is rampant. A student hit my Dad last year. He reported it. Nothing was done because the student still drives to school.
I have no friends. I am going into my third year at West High and I have yet to have anybody who is not in a wheelchair respond to me. Again, the real problem is fear.
People walk in front of me all the time.
People push around me all the time.
People touch my chair all the time.
People who do not need to use the accessible door, run in front of me to use it all the time.
People never say “Hi” back to me when I talk to them all the time.
People never invite me to be a part of the group.
People laugh at me all the time.
I spend most of my time around the people that care for my needs because of this. I do not feel the drive to be social. I feel rejected and misunderstood. And this is not just the students, but some of the teachers as well. And I am left with this message from all of you…
You all fear me.
My chair is my legs and my arms, and I do not need it because I am overweight. The medication for my disease makes me bloated and overweight, even though I eat 500 calories a day. You cannot catch my disease, it is genetic. I have to work four times as hard as other people because my disease causes me great fatigue, and I am on the honor roll because of my hard work. I smile and I am friendly all the time, yet, I have no one to eat lunch with.
I think that if this is happening to me, I can only imagine that it is happening to the student with a darker skin color, or the student who came out as homosexual, or the student from another country, or the student who has a different religion than a Judeo/Christian one, or the student that has been socially labeled as not “one of us” by the elite.
If you want to fight fear, you have to use empathy, truth and communication.
If empathy is not natural, there has to be law. And if the law is broken, there has to be swift and just consequences.
If truth and communication is not known or encouraged, then walls must be broken down to allow for these two to flow.
But, above all, before any actions are taken, the question must be asked and answered: “What does Parkway West truly value: People or prestige?
And when actions are taken, students and faculty need to include the parents. This includes swift and just consequences when policy or laws are broken. All attitudes start in the home, regardless of how parents do or do not want to take responsibility.
My Dad has taught me that the most beautiful person in this world is a person who stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and is not afraid to speak out.
I hope that there are more beautiful people at this school who will join me.