From emergency rooms to the pageant stage
Each year, in Virginia, a woman is chosen to serve as an activist for people with disabilities. The job of the woman is to spread awareness to the leaders of the community and residents about issues involving disabilities.
This year, a young lady named Ryann Kress won the title. Ryann grew up constantly in emergency rooms. She was a very active child as she was in the marching band and martial arts.
Now, as she begins her new chapter as Ms. Wheelchair Virginia, she is using her platform and voice to advocate for mental health care for patients with limited mobility and disabilities.
Ryann, herself, has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a disorder the affects the connective tissue in the body. So, you could imagine that things like dancing became hard on her body. One of her shoulders would dislocate over 100 times per day.
As Ryann got older, her symptoms worsened and she was on crutches often. Ryann eventually went to college and became an ER nurse. She says that her EDS was manageable until about three years ago. Her knees, ankles, and hips became so weak that they couldn't support her body weight anymore. Ryann left her job in the ER and transitioned to a role as a case manager at LewisGale Medical Center in Salem. That's when she was fitted for her first wheelchair.
Ms. Wheelchair Virginia
Only a few months after being fitted for her first chair, Ryann began her journey to the 2020 Ms. Wheelchair Virginia. Ryann says, "The Ms. Wheelchair program is based on advocacy and achievement instead of beauty or talent."
In 2019, Ryann competed in the pageant and developed a platform and speech. Her platform was built around advocacy for mental health care for people with mobility disabilities. One sure thing she noticed, as a patient who is familiar with the medical world, was the lack of training she received when she first was fitted for her chair.
It might seem simple, but Ryann said, "There’s a lot that goes into learning how to function in a wheelchair, and she lacked support from medical professionals through that process."
She also noticed the lack of mental health resources for people with mobility disabilities.
As Ms. Wheelchair Virginia, Ryann's job will be educating, raising awareness, and advocating for those with disabilities and their needs across Virginia. With the Coronavirus postponing Ryann's recent events, she is still preparing for the national pageant in August.
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