A local UTC student is heading to Providence, R.I., to compete in the Ms. Wheelchair America competition.
Jean–Marie Lawrence, a graduate student with muscular dystrophy, won the title of Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee at the state pageant in April.
Since then, Lawrence said she has used her position to speak to children at the Siskin Children's Institute and high school students, as well as at the anniversary celebration for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I have always had a desire to advocate on a wider scale, and Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee has allowed me to do that,” she said.
Lawrence said she plans to expand on the platform that helped her win Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee for the upcoming competition in Rhode Island Aug. 11.
Although she initially focused on transportation accessibility on buses, Lawrence said she will expand that platform to cover all public transit and her ideas to improve accessibility.
“The upcoming pageant is going to be intense,” she said. “I'm excited for it, but nervous as well. I'll be up against the best women in the country. We all represent people with disabilities in our own states, and this is an amazing opportunity to compete for the chance to represent people with disabilities on a national level.”
More than anything else, Lawrence said she plans to simply learn as much as she can from the pageant, which includes a leadership conference component to help contestants improve leadership and communication skills.
She said she wants to utilize these skills to make her dreams for changes to public transportation a reality and expand her advocacy efforts to a larger scale.
“Ms. Wheelchair America is not a contest to select the most attractive individual,” Kristin Connors, president of the Ms. Wheelchair America Board and former Ms. Wheelchair America, said. “It is based on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities. Our contestants are women who have achieved many things in their lives, including advanced degrees and successful careers, despite their mobility challenges.”