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Woman ‘not disabled enough’ for pageant

A disabled woman was recently told she was not disabled enough to hold the title of Miss Wheelchair Wisconsin.

Apparently, being dependent on a motorized scooter does not qualify an individual to be disabled enough to compete in a disabled pageant.

A newspaper published a photo of Janeal Lee, 30, standing in her classroom where she teaches algebra. Lee had been preparing to compete in the Miss Wheelchair America contest, but when pageant officials saw the picture, they not only disqualified her from the national pageant, but stripped her state crown as well.

Although Lee has used a motorized scooter since high school and has become increasingly dependent on it for transportation, pageant officials said she was not disabled enough and told her that as her muscular dystrophy progresses, she could re-enter the pageant in a few years. This is extremely callous.

The pageant rules require a participant to use a wheelchair as her primary means of transportation, which Lee does. When she is in her home or confined to her algebra classroom, she is able to take a few steps, but graceful strides do not exactly describe the way she takes steps.

Because of this, others have renounced the organization, resigned from positions and taken off crowns. Lee’s sister, who holds the title of Miss Wheelchair Minnesota, resigned her title in support, and the pageant’s Minnesota coordinator stepped down as well.

The Wisconsin title now belongs to the third-place finisher. The second-place finisher refused to accept the title once Lee was stripped of it, and rightly so.

Cindy Hughes, the 2004 national title holder, said what pageant officials did to Lee was inappropriate. Hughes also called for Pat O’Bryant, the volunteer executive director of the national organization, to step down from her position. After Hughes, a quadriplegic, won the title, the director advised her to not eat at public events because Hughes’ disability forced her to pick up food with her mouth.

An organization that acts like it is there to promote positive images of the disabled should not be telling someone their disability is not enough for their pageant, and furthermore should not be instructing title holders to conceal their disability.

This organization and its officials should be ashamed of themselves.

U-WireNorthern Star Northern Illinois U.