It’s a pageant that anyone can appreciate: No bathing suits, no ballgowns, and the kind of beauty required to win comes from within.
But are there tiaras, we ask?
Yes, there are tiaras.
The Ms. Wheelchair America 2007 contest, held last week at the Peabody Hotel, is not your grandmother’s beauty pageant, though grandmothers have been known to participate. The competition is open to women ages 21 to 60, of any marital status, who use a wheelchair or scooter in their day-to-day lives. This year’s winner was Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts, Autumn Grant.
“The pageant is geared toward women of inner strength and beauty, with excellent public speaking skills and who advocate the rights of those with disabilities, not just for themselves, but who advocate rights within their community and nationally,” said Ida Esh’t, executive director of the Arkansas Governor’s Commission on People with Disabilities and state coordinator for Ms. Wheelchair Arkansas. She founded the Arkansas competition with the help of the late Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, who had children with disabilities. Esh’t herself is mobility-impaired (she has a sportster chair, a “BMW” model, she says).
All contestants must choose a platform and speak about it during the pageant. Ms. Wheelchair Arkansas, Angel Okafor, sponsored by United Cerebral Palsy, addressed the abuse of mobility-impaired women and their caretakers.
“It was powerful,” Esh’t said.
Three years ago, Rockefeller added the honorary “Extraordinary Leadership” award to the pageant. This year the award went to Emily DeBray, Ms. Wheelchair Alabama. Criteria include courteousness, kindness and a good perception of oneself and others.
Last week’s five-day event went beautifully, Esh’t said, thanks to “a group of dedicated, loving volunteers.”
Although the national pageant was just last week, the next round of state contests is just around the corner. The Ms. Wheelchair Arkansas pageant will be held in late October or November. For more information about the event, check out www.mswheelchairamerica.org.