Jessica Littlefield, a sophomore Recreation and Leisure student at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, has been named Ms. Wheelchair Maine and is working to raise $3,000 in donations so she can attend the Ms. Wheelchair America event to be held this August in Grand Rapids, Michigan.The Ms. Wheelchair America competition provides an opportunity of achievement for women who happen to be wheelchair users to educate and advocate for the more than 52 million Americans living with disabilities, according to the organization's website.
This competition - based on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation - selects the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities to serve as Ms. Wheelchair America. The selected representative must be able to communicate both the needs and the accomplishments of her constituency to the general public, the business community and the legislature.
Ms. Wheelchair America was organized in 1972 by Columbus, Ohio, physician Dr. Philip K. Wood. The non-profit program, which consists of state coordinators and state titleholders, has grown to include programs in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia.
Littlefield, a 26-year-old Presque Isle resident, said she learned about Ms. Wheelchair America a few years ago in a spinal cord injury newsletter. She is paralyzed from the chest down and has been in a wheelchair since she was 21, when she received a spinal cord injury in a serious car accident. After considering all the work involved with participating in Ms. Wheelchair America, Littlefield decided in December 2009 to give it a try. Because there is currently no Ms. Wheelchair Maine competition, Littlefield automatically qualified as an independent delegate for Maine. She is Maine's first-ever representative for the national competition, which will be held August 9-15.
If Littlefield is able to collect enough donations to attend, she will participate in judges' interviews, a platform speech and a formal wear competition, among other events, in order to vie for the opportunity to be a national advocate for wheelchair-bound individuals.
After she participates in the national event, Littlefield has more work ahead of her - she will be starting a Ms. Wheelchair Maine program so that for 2011, someone will be able to take over her reign. Littlefield admits that this is a very large undertaking and would gladly accept any assistance from members of the community to make this event happen. For Littlefield, it's incredibly important to ensure that wheelchair-bound women in Maine like herself have this opportunity.
"I just thought it would be a really worthwhile experience to meet other people who are going through the same experience as me," Littlefield said. "And I really like the message it gives - just because someone's in a wheelchair doesn't mean they have to stop living their lives."
To assist Littlefield in starting up a Ms. Wheelchair Maine pageant, please contact her at 227-8591. To make a donation so she can attend the national competition, send a check to: Jessica Littlefield, 37 Dupont Dr., Presque Isle, ME 04769. To learn more about Ms. Wheelchair America, visit http://www.mswheelchairamerica.org/.