Inspiring other to use their voices and advocate for themselves is a goal for Nina Harrison, the new Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota. She also hopes to raise awareness of issues facing direct care staff, as both as a client and a former health care worker.
Harrison was crowned in February and will represent the state at the national Ms. Wheelchair America. The pageant will be held in August in Grand Rapids, Michigan in August.
Harrison brings a lifelong understanding of disabilities to her new role. As a youngster in Chicago, she helped care for an uncle who used a wheelchair. “I never thought I’d be in a wheelchair myself,” she said.
She worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) while raising her two children as a single mother. After finishing high school in Chicago, Harrison lived in different places before settling here.
Years ago Harrison was mistakenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her actual diagnosis is neurosarcoidosis, paraplegic. She is considered to be legally blind because her optic nerves are severely damaged in both eyes. She relies on assistive technology. She has used braille but jokes that reading braille and keeping fingernails manicured don’t mix.
Harrison lives on St. Paul’s East Side Her son is 26 and her daughter is 23. She also has two grandchildren. She very much enjoys spending time with family.
Ms. Wheelchair America is unlike any other pageant. Its focus in on women who are effective advocates and communicators, who can speak to issues women who use wheelchairs face. Harrison said her understanding of both sides of the direct care crisis give her a unique perspective as an advocate.
“Personal care attendants and other health care staff aren’t paid enough, and that directly affects their clients,” she said. “It’s an eye-opener and help to raise awareness of this issue.” She enjoys doing research and will be digging into this important issue, to raise it at the pageant in August.
Harrison enjoy church and is looking forward to in-person services again. She enjoys activities at the M Health Fairview Achievement Center, trying her hand at pastimes including candle making and painting. She also likes having her hair and nails done,
She also wants women who use wheelchairs to be their best selves. “Don’t limit yourself because you are in a wheelchair,” she said. “If you have a voice, let it be heard.”
Handi Medical of St. Paul is among the businesses helping to support the Minnesota pageant, which has been dormant. Information on sponsorships will be available soon.