GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Ms. Wheelchair America organization is holding their pageant this week at the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids. Contestants from all over the country are competing for the crown — and they are celebrating their 50th year!
The group was created to promote advocacy, leadership and to highlight achievements of women with functional impairments.
Ms. Wheelchair America President Shelly Loose says the winner of the title will continue the pageant's mission.
"Her role will be to travel throughout America and make appearances or talks in different areas to help bring awareness throughout the country of the disabled situation, to bring awareness of the disabled population that we have, and also to, again, break the stereotypes that exist."
Ms. Wheelchair America Michigan, Sarah Anasar, understands the need to be seen not just through appearances, but with other women just like her.
"It's nice to connect with someone on that level, because they've gone through some of the things I've gone through and some of the experiences that I've gone through, and I just sometimes thought I was alone in that aspect," she said.
Anasar and the other contestants got to bond through a scavenger hunt in downtown Grand Rapids, but Loose says it also served another purpose.
"It's very intentional, that I have the women out there and I give them these clues that might be a little tricky, so that they would have to ask a local, [so the women can be seen as women and not women in wheelchairs]," she said.
Ms. Wheelchair America Oregon is hoping her platform, Adapting America For All, helps her win Ms. Wheelchair America.
"Just sometimes you get stuck on a sidewalk with your wheelchair, whether it's the electric chair or the mobile or the manual chair, things like that are some of the biggest issues and just trying to get into a business."
But no matter who wins the title, the biggest winner is the mission that promotes accessibility for everyone.
The competition was with the support of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and continues through the week with the crowning of the new Ms. Wheelchair American on Saturday night.
13 On Your Side Health Reporter Valerie Lego
Val has been reporting on health and medical stories in West Michigan for 16 years. She is an 18-time Emmy Award Winner. Her health reporting credentials include fellowships from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Association of Health Care Journalists
Contact me: vallego@13OnYourSide.com
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.