DANVILLE — After four years of participating in Miss Wheelchair Ohio, Danielle Brown of Danville has finally achieved the worthy goal of being named this year’s winner. On Aug. 24, she will travel to Rapid City, S.D., to participate in Miss Wheelchair America.
Brown, who has been in a wheelchair all of her life because of spina bifida, said her journey to being Ohio’s representative has strengthened her passion to serve as a voice for those with disabilities.
“I got introduced to this pageant by a woman I met at the Mansfield mall, Stacey Hubbard,” said Brown. “She was a former Miss Wheelchair Ohio; she told me about it. I had never heard about it before.”
Staying in contact with Hubbard, Brown, encouraged to enter the competition, filled out the application which asked her about her hobbies, club involvement, and awards pertaining to her disability.
“[Also] you had to pick five words that describe yourself; mine were optimistic, persistent, survivor, caring and sensitive,” said Brown.
The competition was held in Worthington in May, with three contestants. Each contestant had to give a two-minute speech on the five words they chose.
Brown said she never thought she would cry during her speech, but as she spoke of her struggles and triumphs over life’s obstacles, the words which came from her heart overwhelmed her.
“I thought I had blown it,” Brown said.
At the end of the pageant, with only one name left to call, she couldn’t believe she had won.
“When they said my name, I just sat there and I couldn’t believe that this had finally happened. I was thinking they must have mixed up the score. [But] I was so excited ... and the only words I could think of was ‘I’m freaking out,’” said Brown.
After three years of participating in the pageant, she was unsure whether to continue. Last year, she attended classes at the Knox County Career Center Adult workforce education program in computer office technology. That, along with being an active member and treasurer of the local Action Club, an affiliate of the Kiwanis Club, for the past two years, left Brown very busy.
“I almost didn’t [compete] last year but at the last minute I decided to do it. Because this is something that I am passionate about and I didn’t want to see myself give up on it,” said Brown.
One of Brown’s goals as Miss Wheelchair Ohio is to promote the pageant as well as understanding for people with disabilities. Because over the years participation in the competition has decreased, Brown hopes to change that.
“The first year I did the pageant there were seven contestants, and that was about average. The last three years there have been from three to five contestants, so it’s getting smaller. My fear is that it will go away and I don’t want to see it go away, so I am really trying to get out there [and promote] it,” she said.
“The pageant really helps you all around, like with self-confidence. It’s made me more confident in myself and knowing my abilities and what I can do. Even the years I didn’t win I still told people about the pageant. I might not have been the winner [at the time], but I stilled wanted to get the word out,” said Brown.
Contestants must be 21 to 60 years old, and wheelchair dependent, Brown said, and in no way is the competition looked on as a beauty pageant.
At the end of August, Brown will compete among representatives from 27 other states.
“I’m excited. I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing what this pageant is like,” she said.
In June, Brown said she was greatly encouraged by State Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl’s presentation to her of a House Resolution in honor of her achievements. Local support from community members, businesses and her church, East Side Church of Christ, has also been an inspiration to Brown.
When Brown’s reign as Miss Wheelchair Ohio began in May, she said she immediately jumped into action. Already she has traveled to different fairs and festivals as ambassador for people with disabilities, and will continue to do so for the rest of the year.
Not only does Brown want to be an advocate for the pageant and public awareness, but she also wants to break down barriers that prevent people with disabilities from working in the community.
“One thing that I do want to stress is the employability of people with disabilities, [especially] in my speeches,” said Brown. “I think over the years places have gotten better about hiring people with disabilities, but there is still a [stigma].”
Brown said she has experienced job stigma against people with disabilities, and understands that it is not easy to overcome. That’s why she has made it her goal to be a voice to help improve job availability for people with disabilities.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent people with disabilities, and for all of the community sponsorship and support,” she said.