Pageants for disabled women

A smiling woman donned with a diadem  (by courtesy of Miss Wheelchair America)
Alexandra McArthur is Miss Wheelchair America 2011 (by courtesy of Miss Wheelchair America)

The goal of pageants for disabled women is not to select the most attractive individual. Instead, competitions foster on inner qualities as the selected representative must be able to communicate the needs and accomplishments of her community.

In the US, beauty pageants for disabled people can look back on a long tradition. The Miss Wheelchair America pageant, for instance, has been running since 1972 and is organised by a non-profit organisation.

The state programmes are staffed and coordinated by volunteers dedicated to increasing public awareness; so that all disabled US citizens will be afforded the opportunities to lead productive and meaningful lives. The present Miss Wheelchair 2011, Alexandra McArthur, does certainly fully endorse this motto.

A native of North Carolina, Alexandra McArthur was born in 1987.  Her 22 years of life have offered her challenges and triumphs. In second grade, her sister, Park, was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. Soon after, Alexandra was diagnosed, too.  As her family struggled with the news, Alexandra only felt excitement.  At the age of seven, she relished the idea that it made her more like her older sister. Her disease and resulting disability has shaped Alexandra’s life in many ways but she believes it has made her more mature, adaptable, adept at engaging with others, and appreciative of every day.

A smiling girl with a diadem, in a wheelchair (by courtesy of Miss Wheelchair California)
Mercedes Hill, Little Miss Wheelchair California 2011 (by courtesy of Miss Wheelchair California)

Spokeswoman for disability rights

Unlike traditional beauty pageants, Ms. Wheelchair America does not aim to select the most attractive individual. It is instead a competition based on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities. The selected representative must be able to communicate both the needs and the accomplishments of her constituency to the general public, the business community and the legislature.

A panel of five judges selects one lovely lady to wear the crown. As Ms. Wheelchair America, the national titleholder has numerous duties. These include promoting the awareness of the need to eliminate architectural and attitudinal barriers, informing the able-bodied public of the achievements of the millions of people with disabilities across the nation, and assisting with the establishment of programmes in all 50 states by promoting Ms. Wheelchair America.

During her one year long reign, she has the opportunity to travel while visiting advocacy groups, making public appearances and conducting radio, printed ads, and TV interviews. The commitment and personal example of the titleholder serves to further the mission of Ms. Wheelchair America.

Little Miss Wheelchair 2011

Ms. Wheelchair America cooperates closely with the US-State beauty pageants. Ms. Wheelchair California has recently made the headlines by creating the first beauty contest for disabled children. On April 16th 2011, at the Abilities Expo in Los Angeles, California, Mercedes Hill-Mariscal was crowned as the very first Little Miss Wheelchair California 2011. The crowning took place right before the 45th Ms. Wheelchair California, Corey Petersen (Santee, California), was announced.

The Little Miss Wheelchair California Pageant was created by Ms. Wheelchair California 2010, Jennifer Kumiyama; as a way to "breed" advocates in the disability community at a younger age and to provide a positive role model to the youth with disabilities in her state.

Mercedes was two years old when she and her family had a car accident. She aquired a spinal cord injury and doctors predicted that she would not survive.

Now, at age 8, Mercedes, who is a Girl Scout & plays Challenger Baseball, attends 2nd grade at Goldenview High School. Mercedes is active in her community through beach clean ups and is in the Caretaker Team of her school farm. She is best described as bright, encouraging and determined.

Miss Deaf International

Like any other disability organisations, beauty pageants have also specialised according to the form of disability. 2011 saw the election of Miss Deaf International, Cassandra Whyte, the former Miss Deaf Jamaica. First, second and third runner-ups were Ariana Martins (Miss Deaf Brazil), Ines Ben Hassine (Miss Deaf France) and Roh In-Young (Miss Deaf Korea) respectively.

As the Ambassador of Miss Deaf International Inc., Cassandra Whyte will be the voice of all deaf women in the world. With grace and humility, she will establish the standard for the deaf women by demonstrating her best ability as a role model of exemplary means for our present and future generation. With diplomacy, she will revolutionise the working world as a career woman with deafness, to speak out against the atrocities and the stereotypes that no deaf young ladies and women should face and endure, and to help restore their dignity as a deaf woman.

MyHandicap encourages young women to participate in pageants throughout the world. On the featured websites you will find specific information about how to enrol and election criteria.

Note: the election of Miss Handicap Switzerland will be held on October 8 2011.

Text: Michel Benedetti – 08/2011
Fotos: Miss Wheelchair USA, Miss Wheelchair California