I believe that the universe is always moving forward and it is up to each of us to make progress happen. When you sit in a wheelchair, you are more accustomed to people looking down at you than up to you. That’s what prompted me to learn to create my own opportunities in life.
When I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2004, I quite knowingly took on the tremendous responsibility of being not only an advocate but being a role model as well.
In my opinion, being a role model is sharing my life experiences and lessons learned with those who don’t see me as an actualized person in addition to those who do not fully recognize their own potential.
Last Thanksgiving presented a fantastic opportunity to dispel stereotypes and to demonstrate that there can be pageantry in advocacy. I was invited to sit in the V.I.P. section by Macy’s for their Thanksgiving Day Parade. I certainly never expected to be seated in the center of the section, in front of James Gandolfini and Jon Bon Jovi. I spent hours smiling for the cameras and being treated like royalty.
But, the best part of the whole dazzling day was having so many young girls come up to have their picture taken with me. I believe that so many people now have a much broader perception of women with disabilities.
How far I have come from being that little girl in Oklahoma who was the first quadriplegic child mainstreamed at my public school and who endured years of taunts and cruel jokes.
One of the accomplishments I am most proud was the opportunity to meet with members of Congress concerning issues that affect the lives of all those who live with a disability. I was quite taken aback by the respect paid to my views by Senators Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, Tom Harken, Charles Grassley and others.
As Ms. Wheelchair America, I have sought to emphasize the importance of being a self-advocate.
54 million Americans who live with a disability wrangle daily with obstacles both great and small. Unfortunately, there are those who despair about these hardships.
I believe that I should use my gifts, skills and opportunities to benefit those I represent. I am here to say that doors do open.
I have had more opportunity than I ever would have dreamed possible. I have not taken for granted the time with political leaders, the outstretched hands from the business community, and the welcome mats from church and civic groups. They symbolize how bright our country’s future can be.
As my reign concludes, I want to remind all Americans with disabilities that our message is being heard. The message being that opportunity is our pursuit. Every one of us can help build a future that values and utilizes the energy of all people.
What a year this has been. I am proud to have put all that I have learned to use. I am happy to have helped to change perceptions and encourage positive public policy.
I look forward with gratitude to continuing my efforts as an advocate. Oh, how I enjoyed the opportunities of my reign.
Look out for your state’s Ms. Wheelchair America contestant. She’ll be competing at the 32nd annual Ms. Wheelchair America program scheduled for July 27-August 1, in Richmond, Virginia.
When the newly crowned Ms. Wheelchair America begins her reign, she too will have the marvelous opportunity to experience the pageantry of advocacy.
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