Wheelchair Pageant Contestants Recognized for Achievements
Too often, people assume that those who use wheelchairs do not have significant achievements or intellect, maintain a high quality of life, or make an impact on society. Let me set the record straight. People with disabilities are still very functional in many facets of their lives.
On February 23, I was one of eight contestants in the Ms. Wheelchair America-Ohio Pageant in Mansfield, Ohio. The judges were not evaluating the contestants based on beauty, talent, or wheelchair agility. No one wore a swim suit, twirled a baton, or did "wheelies" on stage.
The Ms.Wheelchair America Program Inc. focuses on a woman's ability to be a spokesperson for people with disabilities. She is to communicate both the needs and the accomplishments of her constituency to the public, the business community, and the legislature. Her job is to educate regarding the dignity, productiveness and basic value of people with disabilities. She can assist in eliminating the architectural and attitudinal barriers that prevent people with disabilities from assuming their rightful place in society.
Contestants must be between 21-60 years of age and utilize a wheelchair for daily mobility. Marital status is not a consideration.
Contestants are judged on their accomplishments since the onset of their disability, community skills, self perception and projection in personal interviews, on-stage interviews and platform speech presentations. The five member panel of judges evaluated each candidate's performance during a ten minute private interview, a four minute prepared speech, and a five minute spontaneous speech responding to two questions.
This was my first experience in a pageant. As I prepared, I interviewed people at agencies that serve people with disabilities, and researched issues and legislation. I learned much about the American with Disabilities Act and studied the US Census data regarding the incidence of disabilities.
The pageant experience gave me a closer look into the lives of the contestants. Two had been born with their disability, while six had sustained serious injuries as adults. No one wanted to be a member of this group of disabled American women. Circumstances in our lives created situations that limit our mobility. What made these women of achievement stand out, even though they can't stand up, is that they have adapted to their situations and figured out how to get things done in spite of their handicaps. Many attended and graduated from college. Three were married and three have children, even a set of twins.
The most surprising event of the pageant was the moment preceding the announcement of the second runner up, Debbie LaPlant-Arbogast, of Millbury, Ohio. I felt the hand of the contestant to my left, in my hand. As I turned to look at all of the contestants, each was holding the hand of the woman next to her. This spontaneous display of support and unity is an accomplishment worth noting. Many contestants have quadriplegia, a paralysis of both arms and legs, making it very difficult to grasp the hand of another. As the master of ceremonies announced the names of the winners, all of the contestant's arms were raised in unison.
As my name was called as the first runner up, I heard the cheers of the other contestants. As Stacy James, of Columbus, was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Ohio, congratulatory greetings poured from the standing-room only crowd at the Holiday Inn. Looking back at the pageant, I realize that people can achieve their personal best in many ways. As a professional speaker, I wanted to show my talent fully as I spoke to the judges and audience. After watching the videotape of my performance, I was pleased with what I saw. In my mind, I had set a personal best.
As I watched the winter Olympics, there were many occasions when the athletes set a new personal best speed record. Each of us can set our own records, as we evaluate our own performance. Speed is only one indicator of a quality performance. We need to examine the quality of our performance using various standards of excellence.
In life, it isn't about winning or losing. It's about doing what you set out to do, and doing your best. It's about pushing yourself, facing your fears, and growing by performing as if it was the last performance you would give. Sometimes no one sees your performance. Only you will be the judge. You will know how well you did.
Sometimes that inner glow we feel in knowing that we did our best is reward enough. The quiet satisfaction of a job well done surpasses the loudest applause.
� Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. would like to read your comments about her column and the impact it has made on your life. She also encourages your ideas for future columns. Contact her at: Rosemarie@RosemarieSpeaks.com, or 1008 Eastchester Dr., Columbus, OH 43230-6230.
Byline: To book Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. to speak at a conference, contact her at: (614) 471-6100; www.RosemarieSpeaks.com. 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.
Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D