It’s been about a month since I was humbly crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2023. I’m still reminiscing on the incredible journey that led me to spending an entire week with, at the time, 21 of my competitors, but who are now all great friends. When I was driving to the competition all I could think about was making sure I maintain my game face because, after all, this is a competition.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, 7 days later I left the competition feeling incredibly humbled and honored to have spent a week with such amazing women around the country who are all engaged in advocacy projects with the mission of making the world just a little bit more inclusive.
I know I took home the title, and I plan to advocate on behalf everyone with disabilities for years to come, but the competition really was about camaraderie. I built relationships with women in such a short period of time that I know will last a lifetime. It’s an experience that profoundly changes you from within.
On that note, I spent the first week after the competition trying to garner as much media attention as I could on what Ms. Wheelchair America stands for. I then proceeded to critically think about how to spend the next 365 days of my life in order to affect the greatest amount of change with the title. I spent hours sitting out by the little stream in my community pondering on the best use of my time. I have a year of travel, speaking engagements, and advocacy partnerships already underway.
However, I was also noodling on how to be mindful of making sure I take care of myself as well while making the most of each moment of every day. I fully believe in taking advantage of any opportunity that promotes disability inclusion within the community, government, corporations, or with other stakeholders in the community as quickly as possible. I have this incredible platform to make some real change and I intend to use it!
I know so many of the other women from the competition who are using their state titles to get engaged quickly as I am. Each day incredible opportunities keep popping up for me and as long as my quadriplegic body cooperates. I will take advantage of each and every opportunity.
Here are a few of the things I have been up to and have planned over the next few months already:
- Worked with media outlets to shine light on what Ms. Wheelchair America advocacy competition is all about with:
- ABC 11 NewsSpectrum NewsFox NewsCBS 17 News
- News & Observer Newspaper
- Partnering with the ITEM Coalition over the last two years to work with CMS to re-classify power chair seat elevator’s and standing power wheelchair’s as medically necessary — I was invited to a Congressional Briefing in September in Washington DC. I was 1 of 4 advocates to speak publicly on how seat elevators on my power wheelchair has affected my quality of life, improved my activities of daily living, and reduced a host of secondary medical complications. We are making great strides on this!
- Partnering with Permobil wheelchair company to promote my Health Insurance Navigation Guide on their website and working with them on different opportunities to bring education and awareness on the importance of complex rehab technology to various stakeholders in the community. I partnered with SPINALpedia to host this guide after writing it for nearly 9 months.
- I have been invited to several podcasts to chat about advocacy, inclusion, and disability employment.
- Hired a PR company to help me advance the mission of disability inclusion to corporations through various speaking engagements to leaders around the country.
- Revamping my Quirky Quad Website in order to further promote my mission of inclusion around the country.
- Heading down to Miami in the Beginning of November to represent Ms. Wheelchair America with Mobility Works (A leading dealer of Wheelchair Vans) at an Abilities Expo.
- Planning multiple trips to this year to various Abilities Expo’s around the country
- Worked with Spectrum news to do a beautiful piece on accessible pool lifts in private communities with respect to pushing beyond minimum standards of the Fair Housing Act and ADA requirements.
- Working with the North Carolina State Medical Board on various health insurance advocacy policies
- Working on setting up with meeting with the Department of Insurance and the CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield in the next 60 days.
- Joined a fantastic Professional Women’s group in Raleigh to further the represent the disability community.
- Continuing to work with United Spinal Association on multiple fronts including disability employment and being a speaker for another beautiful Live Advocacy Webinar.
- Partnering with US Rehab from VGM & Associates on different advocacy events relating to Complex Rehab Technology.
- Meeting with Senior Leaders in the North Carolina Legislator to further my mission on getting adaptive exercise equipment reclassified as medically necessary
- Partnered with North Carolina State Treasurer to work on increasing the age of those qualifying for ABLE Accounts.
- Guest Speaker for VP Executives for Fidelity Investments.
- Guest Speaker for Major Texas Grocery Store Chain on Disability Inclusion in the workplace.
- Guest Speaker with Disability Rights in North Carolina to collaborate on different legislative issues affecting people with disabilities.
- Guest speaker with John Samuel on LinkedIn for All Access Live
- Invited to be the Keynote Speaker for Winston Salem’s Mayors Council on Disabilities
- Heading to major Tech Accessibility Conference with my job, Open Inclusion, called M-enabling Summit in October. I’m really excited to be a panelist at this event and meet so many incredible leaders in the tech accessibility space.
This will bring me to the middle of November or so and I’m excited to see what comes after that. I’m still steadfast in maintaining my advocacy life while managing my full-time career as well.
On a different and exciting note …
I’m also headed back with the documentary crew to my home, Cat Island, Bahamas where I broke my neck 12 years ago. This will be the first time I will have returned and I have a flood of emotions with respect to thinking about going home from November 7 to November 18. I’ve been filming with a documentary crew over the last seven months or so and we are going to end the documentary where it all began – back home in the Bahamas. Stay tuned for this one!
I am still maintaining my health, exercise, and mental sanity for the moment. I love taking hold of every opportunity as long as my body allows it.
If it helps another human being – I will do it!
Even when I fail on a particular project I might be working on — if I inspire one other person to try something they may not have otherwise thought about doing because they heard my story or we had a chat together — then it is all worth it in my mind!