In April of 1991, I entered the Handicapped Woman of Iowa Pageant and won. I’m sure thousands of people enter pageants each year, but this pageant is unique. In order for a woman to enter this pageant, she must have a disability which substantially limits one or more of her major life activities such as ambulation, self care, socialization, communication, education, or transportation. I felt qualified to enter because I contracted polio at age four (before the vaccine) and have been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
The fact that I’ve been in a wheelchair for almost 41 years is not a big deal to me; but it seems people are always amazed to hear that I have been married and have two children. To get married and have children seems perfectly normal to me, yet when I think back, I realize that things weren’t always completely normal.
My boys were probably more independent at an earlier age than a lot of kids. They were zipping their own coats and getting themselves dressed quite early. They did things on their own because I couldn’t do it as fast as they could for themselves.
My kids will often tell me that one of my strong points is the fact that I’ve always been around to listen to their problems and joys. Their father and I were divorced in 1977, and then they lost their father to lung cancer in 1989, so I’m the only parent they have. I’m not sure who relies on whom the most. I do know that my sons were pretty proud of me when I won the Handicapped Woman of Iowa pageant, but I think they would win the award for best sons if they were in a contest.
Finally, I think it’s important to stress the fact that disabled people should not be denied privileges that everyone has, whether it’s college, employment, housing or the opportunity to get married and have a family. It’s all possible. Everything may not be done in a so-called normal fashion, but that doesn’t matter. It’s more important to have a full life the best way possible and to live life—to focus on what you can do, and do it.