As a little girl I would count down to the Miss America and Miss USA pageants every year, watching to see the sparkly dresses and who would be representing my home state. I loved watching the talents and interview questions and imagining what it would be like to wear the sparkly crown. Most little girls who use wheelchairs do not get a chance to see beautiful women who look like them represented in pageants, but did you know that every year the Ms. Wheelchair America and Ms. Wheelchair USA programs crown a beautiful wheeler winner?
Unlike traditional beauty pageants, these pageants not only focus on outer beauty but on the inner beauty and accomplishments of the contestants! A variety of women with a variety of disabilities represent their communities and their platforms speak to the amazing advocacy work that is making a difference in the lives of the disabled community throughout the USA!
Ms. Wheelchair America
Ms. Wheelchair America is a non-profit program organized in the 1970s to recognize the accomplishments of women who use wheelchairs. Over 30 states currently have programs that are organized by volunteers. There is a small list of requirements in order to participate; however their age requirement recognizes women between the ages of 21 and 60 and participants must utilize a wheelchair for 100% of daily mobility in the community. Some of the past winners represent a variety of disabilities including Muscular Dystrophy, spinal cord injury and Spina Bifida, among others. The great thing about the Ms. Wheelchair America program is that the women who participate are true role models for the community. Many of them are highly educated, involved in community action and volunteer while developing their professional careers. Each year the winner completes several public appearances, raising awareness for her platform. The 2013 winner from Texas, Mariah Kilbourne, will be focused on inclusion through accessibility both in work and community environments.
More information about Ms. Wheelchair America can be found at www.mswheelchairamerica.org.
Ms. Wheelchair USA
There is also a Ms. Wheelchair USA program to recognize the beauty of contestants with disabilities. Unlike Ms. Wheelchair America which requires that women use a wheelchair for 100% of daily mobility in the community, Ms. Wheelchair USA does not exclude women who may be able to use their legs. Founded more than 15 years ago, Ms. Wheelchair USA requires that contestants be at least 18 years old, however there is no age limit. This pageant does require a $250 entry fee and traveling costs; however sponsorship is encouraged. Some of the past winners have focused their platforms on accessibility on college campuses, breast cancer awareness and drinking and not driving. The great part of the competition is that each year the winner is crowned at the national pageant in Ohio, complete with the pomp and circumstance you would normally see as part of traditional beauty pageants. 2013's winner Tasha Schuh is spending her year traveling as part of a National speaking and book tour to promote her new book "My Last Step Backwards." The Ms. Wheelchair USA competition is streamed live each year so now little girls of all abilities can tune in to see beautiful role models and one day imagine themselves wheeling across the stage!
More information about Ms. Wheelchair USA can be found at www.mswheelchairusa.org.