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Women Inspire Each Other at the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant

    The last week of July, I participated in the 32nd annual Ms. Wheelchair America pageant in Richmond, VA. Ms Wheelchair America. As Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2004, I was one of 26 state contestants. The women ranged in age from 21 to 54 years, and all use wheelchairs for their mobility. Each came with her own story of disability.

    Some of the contestants have had their disability since birth and some acquired it from a tragic accident. Injuries and illnesses included: spinal cord injury, transverse myelitis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, arthrogryposis, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and spinal muscular atrophy.

    Juliette Rizzo from Maryland was selected as Ms. Wheelchair America 2005. She is the director of communication and media for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education. She will speak nationally and serve as an advocate for the 52 million Americans with a disability.

    I was honored to be included in this peer group of state titleholders. Looking at their biographies, it was apparent that these women did not let their disabilities hinder their accomplishments. Each of these role models owns a tiara, but their lives outshine any of the crystals in their crowns. These women wheelers of achievement came from all walks of life: teacher, counselor, author, mother, grandmother, fashion model, medical secretary, business owner, college student, artist, musician, community volunteer, professional speaker, trainer, TV reporter, program coordinator, consultant, hypnotist, athlete, and financial planner.

    Each contestant inspired the other in some way. When I returned home, I was told by a reporter writing a follow-up story from The Herald newspaper in Jasper, Indiana, that Kelly Craig was inspired after meeting me. Most notable, she was emotionally moved after seeing my husband, Mark and I, wheelchair dancing. She recognized that being in a wheelchair had some limitations, but when she saw us dance, a world of new possibilities opened up for her.

    I was inspired by Sherri Kelly from Oklahoma. She was born with spinal meningitis which caused brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy. She experiences severe uncontrollable spasms and cannot speak. She is a spokesperson for people with disabilities and doesn�t say a word. At age 39, she is enrolled in college working in the field of computer technology. She has an above average intelligence, yet when people first see her, they falsely assume she is developmentally disabled. I was amazed at her intelligence and tenacity. She communicates through a voice synthesizer. She types what she wants to say by painstakingly touching each letter on a keyboard with a stick that is attached to a band around her head. Not an easy task considering the poor muscle coordination brought on by cerebral palsy. The synthesizer robotically speaks the sentences she types. I was in awe as she delivered her two minute speech to the audience at the gala event.

    As a professional speaker, I recognized that a speaker need not say a word to be effective. There are many people without voices due to physical disabilities. They need to be heard and should not be judged falsely. Mechanical interventions and sign language oftentimes aids in communication. The receiver of the message needs to be more patient and pay close attention to the message being sent.

    Oftentimes our everyday actions are interpreted by others as inspiring. Without ever knowing it, something we said or did can touch another person profoundly, offering encouragement where spirits were deflated.

    The Ms. Wheelchair America program is wanting to expand to serve all of the states in this country. This year there were 26 contestants. The directors of the program are looking for volunteers to start state programs in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Missouri, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about starting a state program, contact Pat O'Bryant, national coordinator, 877-679-4335, pobryant@bellsouth.net, Ms Wheelchair America

    As Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2004, I strive to make a significant difference for people with disabilities. If you know of a function in Ohio where I should speak or make an appearance, let me know, Rosemarie@RosemarieSpeaks.com.

    � Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D.

    Rosemarie Speaks

    Rosemarie works with organizations and corporations that want to bring out the best in their people, and she demonstrates how to live life with conviction. She is the author of Take Back Your Life and Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2004.

    Rosemarie would like to receive your comments about the impact her article has made on your life. Write her at: Rosemarie@RosemarieSpeaks.com