Jenny Lynn Adams is a bubbly redhead full of energy. She has a motivational speaking business that she says is wildly successful and that has taken her all across the country. She prefers to work with ''what God gave her'', which is a torso, a head, and virtually no limbs. She was bullied as a kid growing up in Washington State, tried prosthetics, didn't like them, and is perfectly comfortable with who she is and how she is. "Even though I have a disability and people with disabilities are looked at for those disabilities, we also have abilities. And as we are included in mainstream society, we are able to take those abilities and talents out into the world." A year ago, Adams entered the Ms. Wheelchair competition, won the Washington crown, and was then named Ms. Wheelchair USA at the annual pageant in Houston. I caught up with her at the pageant which will name Ms. Wheelchair USA for 2015, held at the lovely Long Beach Hilton. It was quite a sight - 28 women, with varying disabilities, zooming around the halls and meeting rooms in their motorized chairs. In addition to Adams, one of the most impressive women is L.A.'s own Theresa DeVera. Now 38, she was 20 when, as a student at Loyola Marymount, she suffered a severe asthma attack that put her into cardiac arrest and then a coma. She wasn't expected to recover. Her family was encouraged to pull the plug and donate her organs. They didn't and she came out of the coma after three months. Then DeVera taught herself to speak again. She still can't walk, but has gone on to earn both bachelors and masters degrees. She certainly means it when she says, "I feel I have accomplished more disabled than I have able-bodied. It taught me never to take a minute of life for granted." She doesn't and neither should we.
This year's pageant is organized by singer, actress, and advocate Jennifer Kumiyama; she's been in a wheelchair since she was 2. Though this is called a pageant, there's no swimsuit or talent competition. Participants are graded on their communications skills and their ability to advocate for the disabled community. They also attend workshops on public speaking, advocating for the disabled, and keeping physically fit through exercise such as wheelchair dancing, taught by Chelsie Hill, founder of Walk and Roll. The mission of the Ms. Wheelchair USA is “to provide an opportunity of achievement for women who happen to be wheelchair users to successfully educate and advocate for the more than 54 million Americans living with disabilities.” Obviously to get there in the first place, they're all winners. And they're not interested in sympathy, just inclusion.
This is the 43rd year of competition and Ms. Wheelchair America 2015 will be named on Saturday.
The awards ceremony will be carried live on the organization's website.