Kyann is sitting in her chair with her hands folded on her lap. She is sitting in front of the Ms. Wheelchair America sign.

When I was little, I did not know of anyone who was like me to which I could aspire. I do not want that to be the case for others; I desire to be that role model for girls growing up today. I have grown up with multiple disabilities. Disability is a part of who I am—just like my blond hair and green eyes—but it is not the sole definition of “me”.

I have been on the stage for the majority of my life, but this stage was in doctor’s offices, schools, and grocery stores. It never phased me when I was stared at or talked about. At age seven, when a boy asked me why I walk funny, I answered, “My legs work differently, so I wear leg braces. Just like someone who’s eyes work differently, so they wear glasses.” This belief has carried over into using my wheelchair. I use a wheelchair to get from one place to another; it is a mobility device that assists me. Yet, it is also a unique accessory. I like glitz and glamour—the excitement of pretty things. This includes heels, they are fun for me. Using a wheelchair is not going to keep me from wearing heels. My love for fashion and competition, as well as the desire to be someone who I would have loved to see in the limelight, led me to pageants.

On March 11, 2017, I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Washington. This title gave me the opportunity to share my platform of Defying the Defined Disability and continue on to run for Ms. Wheelchair America 2018 (MWA). At MWA, I had the honor of being selected as the second runner-up, and I received the Emerging Leader Award. Even though I did not win the crown, I fell in love with pageants.

I ran for a title that was pertinent to me being a wheelchair user, but why stop there? Women of color and diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to participate in the now inclusive culture of pageants like Miss USA. Why not women in wheelchairs as well? On November 4, 2018, I glided across the stage at Miss Washington USA, as the first woman in a wheelchair to compete for this state title.

Contrasting Logistics

Miss Washington USA is a beauty pageant and has high modeling standards. It is incredibly fast-paced and packs workshops, interviews, and competition prep into the blur of a weekend. This pageant requires a three-minute interview with questions based on one’s profile. If you do not get asked the right questions, it is simply not your day, as this interview is one-third of your overall score.

Ms. Wheelchair America is not a beauty pageant; it is specifically designed for women in wheelchairs to share their platform and have an opportunity to advocate for the disability community. Ms. Wheelchair America is a week-long pageant that incorporates workshops and activities into the interview and pageant preparation schedule. The interview process is in-depth and allows each contestant the opportunity to show the judges who they really are. All contestants—one at a time—are asked the same questions in one 5-minute interview and two 10-minute interviews.

Stage presence is important to both competitions; however, each is determined by different means. While Ms. Wheelchair America includes a speech component to showcase one’s advocacy platform, Miss Washington USA determines stage presence and physical fitness through swimsuit and evening gown promenades.

Both pageants provided me with the opportunity to be an advocate for the disability community. Ms. Wheelchair America gave me the ability to continue my platform—Defying the Defined Disability. However, by simply gliding across the stage at Miss Washington USA, I was living my platform by actually defying the defined disability.

Kyann is sitting in her chair with her right hand on her right hip. She is in a line of eight girls--fourth from the left. All other girls are standing with their right hand on their right hip.

Beauty Within Disability

I believe my disability is beautiful and I desire for others to see that. In our culture today, beauty and disability are commonly perceived as at odds with each other; when disability is thought of, the typical response is not “beauty”, is not “pageant”. Disability can be beautiful, and as of now, the mindset of society is our greatest barrier.

Miss Washington USA gave me a platform to show the world that those of us with disabilities can be confidently beautiful. I desire to be boundless and break stereotypes in order to be that role model that I never had. I want people to know my story, know who I am, and be inspired because of what I have done and who I am as a whole, not just because of my disability. I believe that I have shifted the lens of how people view beauty; I have shown that beauty is beyond how you walk.

View the video of Ms Washington USA, “HeartThreads”:

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