August 2023 in Review (NATIONALS)

“When I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2023, I had no idea just how much the title would change my life.

As a woman with Cerebral Palsy, I have been in a wheelchair and been a strong voice for myself and other people with disabilities for as long as I can remember. Despite always having a strong voice, I sometimes had difficulty getting people to listen. Since earning the title of Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2023 this has not been a problem.

The title has allowed me to do things I would never do, such as go hiking with Luke5Adventures. More importantly, it has allowed me to get to know and form relationships with people I otherwise would not have, such as Commissioner Perales, who has been one of my biggest supporters since I earned my title.

Supporters like Commissioner Perales helped me get to Michigan for a week-long competition for the title of Ms. Wheelchair America 2024. My advocacy platform is READ for Equity.  As a three-time self-published author, I know that inclusive literature geared toward young people can encourage them to Raise awareness, Embrace differences, Advocate for acceptance and Dream big. I am a proponent of the fact that people with disabilities do not need to be cured or overcome our limitations; we can live equitable lives with our disabilities. My platform is dedicated to demonstrating that, by encouraging people to READ through not only inclusive literature but also other media, life can become more equitable for people with disabilities. I chose this platform because I want people to know that a life with a disability is a life worth living.

Watch speech night highlights here.

The Ms. Wheelchair America, Inc. 2024 competition was a week-long event consisting of workshops covering everything from disability history to ethical leadership, theme nights complete with amazing costumes, judges’ interviews, and platform speeches. The disability history workshop was my favorite. Prior to the workshop, I thought it would be boring because I already knew so much about the history of my people. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about disability history prior to the 20th century. For example, I always knew that people with disabilities were some of the earliest victims of the Holocaust but I did not know the particulars because most history books don’t go into detail. While learning the details was sad, it broadened my perspective and made me all that much more grateful to live in a time and be a citizen of a country where disability rights are protected.

The competition included a fairy garden night, an under the sea night, and a dance through decades night. The fairy garden night was definitely my favorite. I dressed as a troll fairy. I have a collection of over 500 troll dolls. Someone told me that they brought good luck when I was 3 years old, and I have collected them ever since. I have also included trolls as characters in each of the young adult books that I have written and self-published thus far. Dressing as a troll fairy was not only fun but also a great ice breaker and a great way to bring my books into conversation.

I had my platform memorized weeks prior to the competition so I was honestly most nervous about the judges’ interviews. Fortunately, the judges were very nice, and I was able to answer all their questions. I was very nervous on speech night. Fortunately, my memory did not let me down, and many said my speech was very good.

I did not come home with the title of Ms. Wheelchair America 2024, but I did not come home empty handed. I earned the Nikki Ard award, recognizing my positivity and willingness to serve others. The judges acknowledged my “outstanding contributions to the disability community through [my] talents, efforts, and example.”  The award was created in recognition of Nikki Ard. Nikki Ard, who earned the title of Ms. Wheelchair America 2001, was known for her very inclusive spirit. She sadly passed away a month prior to her reign ending. Ms. Wheelchair America, Inc. created the award to remember and honor her. I am humbled to have received it and am so pleased that the judges clearly saw my desire to make society more inclusive through literature and other mediums.

Watch the 2024 crowning gala here.

Despite my nerves on speech night, I honestly do not feel I could have done better in any aspect of the competition and am proud of the way I conducted myself. Even more importantly, by taking part in the Ms. Wheelchair America Inc. competition, I became a part of a sisterhood of amazing, powerful ladies with disabilities and made friendships that I know I will have for the rest of my life.  Having such a life-changing experience with so many other incredible advocates is more important than any crown. I would like to thank Commissioner Perales as well as all of my other friends and family for supporting me on my advocacy journey. I will forever be grateful for your support.

Special thanks to the following sponsors who have supported on my MWA 2024 national competition journey:

Rick Perales, President of Greene County Board of Commissioners

Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities

Mobility Works- Dayton, Ohio location

Katherine Wood, Daughter of Phillip K. Wood, founder of Ms. Wheelchair America

The Access Center for Independent Living

The Pyles Family

The Little Family

The Strong Family

The Brassell Family

The Kick Family

Rachele Bachowski

Carol Osgood

Kimberly Hughes

Rahn Salon & Day Spa

Erin Kelly

Barb Bressner

Lynn Canfield

Maria A. Matzik

Kim Darner

Rachel Mangen

Margie Benge

Megan Purtell”