The Ms. Wheelchair America national competition celebrated its 48th year this year during the competition that was held from July 1st-7th in Little Rock, Arkansas. Contestants participated in a series of events throughout the week including leadership training, judging sessions, and mentoring events. These events allowed the competitors the opportunity to discuss issues within the community with each other, which in turn allowed the judging panel to learn more about each woman. Each contestant participating in the national competition is the titleholder for their state and has a unique platform of advocacy.
The now national competition was started in 1972 by Dr. Philip K. Wood of Columbus, OH, who worked with people who had functional impairments. He became inspired by the talents and determination that his patients possessed and created Ms. Wheelchair as a place to recognize the work done by disability advocates. His competition grew into a nation-wide network of competitions which today exists in over 30 states and D.C. The purpose of the program is to select the woman who is the most accomplished, articulate spokeswoman for people with disabilities. Her work will have served to educate the community and its lawmakers, working to break down the stigma and barriers which face individuals who use wheelchairs for mobility.
In addition to the title of Ms. Wheelchair America 2020, 9 other awards were given out to competitors of the program. These awards were:
- The Lifetime Achievement Award which was presented to the contestant who has made the largest impact for people with disabilities.
- The Nicki Ard Achievement Award for serving the disability community and others with a positive attitude, which was the philosophy of Nicki Ard.
- The Outstanding Speech Award chosen by those who attended speech night.
- The People’s Choice Award was given to the contestant who received the most votes, which could be purchased during competition week for $1.
- The Congeniality Award was chosen by fellow participating contestants and signifies the person who was “kindest, friendliest, most helpful, and caring” during the week.
- The Business Award was awarded by the businesses who attended the events or presented workshops and was given to the woman the felt could speak to a variety of topics.
- The Woman of Resilience Award was presented in honor of Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina State Coordinator Brandee Ponder and signifies the woman who could persevere through life in a positive way.
- The Emerging Leader Award was presented in honor of Ms. Wheelchair Nevada State Coordinator Yvonne Manriquez and is given to the woman who shows extreme potential, someone who the judges feel will continue to make great strides during their future work.
- The Judy Hoit Legacy Award was presented in honor of former Ms. Wheelchair America Executive Board Member and Iowa State Coordinator Judy Hoit. The award is given in honor of the woman who has made the biggest impact to the Ms. Wheelchair organization.
The winner this year was Hilary Muehlberger of Missouri, the first winner from the state! Runner-ups included Taria Jackson of Alabama, Jennifer Spaulding of Michigan, Millie Gonzalez, and Cyndi Leach. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be sharing the stories of these women and giving further information on their platform, experiences, and accomplishments. For more information on the contestants from each state, a comprehensive list with their websites can be found here.
Congratulations to all participants in this year’s competition and thank you to all of the volunteers who helped to bring it to life! If you are interested in representing your state, or in sponsoring or volunteering for the Ms. Wheelchair America Program, more information can be found on their website here.