Ms. Mariah Kilbourne becomes MWA 2013!
Mariah Rose Kilbourne, of Texas, is Ms. Wheelchair America 2013. She will serve as an advocate, spokesperson and role model for those with (dis)ABILITIES throughout America! As a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Texas Lutheran University, Mariah majored in Communication Studies and minored in the Spanish Language. As a 23 year old published writer, successful advocate, and avid adaptive sports enthusiast, Mariah cannot help but express her love for photography, public speaking, and fundraising. She can’t wait to use these talents and abilities as Ms. Wheelchair America.
Mariah will use her year as Ms. Wheelchair America to encourage inclusion in many ways... from work to play! She wants everyone to be "Inclined For Inclusion." She will encourage inclusion through accessibility. She wants to increase fair and equitable access to public facilities, especially in historic districts, which are currently inaccessible to people with disabilities. She will promote the need to eliminate architectural and attitudinal barriers that have plagued the disabled community in the past.
2012 – Josie Badger
Josie Badger was recently crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2012. In April 2011 she completed her coursework for her PhD in Healthcare Ethics at Duquesne University and is currently starting her dissertation. She completed graduate school for Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Pittsburgh in April 2009 and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. In May of 2007 she graduated summa cum laude from Geneva College, majoring in Disability Law and Advocacy and in 2003 graduated high school valedictorian. Josie works at the PEAL Center as Youth Coordinator for the State Implementation Grant, assisting youth in healthcare transition and leadership development. Josie additionally works for the ActNow grant, funded through the Pennsylvania Development Disabilities Council, creating materials for youth to assist them in presenting on issues important to young adults with disabilities. She has served as president and vice president of the National Youth Leadership Network. On the state level, Josie was a founding member and president of the Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network. She works with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on the Family Forum and the Ethics Committee. Josie was named Glamour Magazine's 11th Top College Women of 2006.
Badger’s platform is developing empowerment and leadership development of youth with disabilities. As Ms. Wheelchair America 2012, Josie has numerous duties. These include promoting awareness of the need to eliminate architectural and attitudinal barriers, informing the able-bodied public of the achievements of the millions of people with disabilities across the nation, and assisting with the establishment of programs in all 50 states by promoting Ms. Wheelchair America. During her year-long reign, she will have the opportunity to travel visiting advocacy groups, making public appearances and conducting radio, print ad, and TV interviews.
2011 – Alexandra McArthur
Alexandra McArthur was Ms. Wheelchair America 2011, having previously served as Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina 2010.
A native of North Carolina, Alexandra McArthur was born in 1987. Her 22 years of life have offered her challenges and triumphs. As a child growing up in rural North Carolina, Alexandra used her imagination to entertain herself and her family. She spent her days partially clothed, running around the farm creating make-believe games.
In second grade, her sister, Park, was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. Soon after, Alexandra was also diagnosed. As her family struggled with the news, Alexandra only felt excitement. At the age of seven, she relished the idea that it made her more like her older sister. Her disease and resulting disability has shaped Alexandra’s life in many ways, but she believes it has made her more mature, adaptable, adept at engaging with others, and appreciative of every day. Dealing with her disability and how others have responded to it has put Alexandra in a position to relate to others and problems in a unique way. Alex has been forced to embrace physical awkwardness, take pleasure in breaking stereotypes, and make the most of every moment. Alex now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and is employed at Davidson College as the Fellow for Leadership Development. She graduated Cum Laude from Davidson College with a Bachelors of Arts in History. Alex enjoys meeting new people, reading, planning parties, wine tasting, and working towards inclusion for people with disabilities.
She was thrilled to be Ms. Wheelchair America 2011. She used her year to advocate, inspire, challenge, and share her platform of the importance of employment for people with disabilities to promote inclusion. "I believe that inclusion happens person by person and as Ms. Wheelchair America 2011, I worked towards full and equal access for people with disabilities, changing one mind at a time."
2010 – Erika Bogan
On January 20, 2002, at the age of 21, her life was changed forever. She was a passenger in a motor-vehicle accident caused by anger, in which she was ejected from the car and received an incomplete spinal cord injury at the T11, T12 vertebrae. When she emerged from a coma two and a half months later, she dreamed of inspiring as many people as possible and motivating them to keep moving forward despite of any obstacles that may stand in their way.
Erika is a single mother of three beautiful girls. She works full-time at Medical Home Health & Mobility in Concord, NC, and is in charge of coordinating medical home health supplies. Erika is working on obtaining her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in sociology, with hopes of counseling and mentoring others who are facing similar obstacles. She would like to develop a program to help people find ways to overcome and adapt to the challenges that they are faced with in day-to-day life. She also enjoys surfing, parasailing and playing wheelchair basketball for her state wheelchair basketball team, the Carolina Tarwheels.
As Ms. Wheelchair America 2010, Erika's platform is to serve as an example that anything is possible, no matter what limitations a person may be facing, through persistence and determination. It is her goal to spread advocacy and awareness about the abilities rather than disabilities of people with physical limitations. In addition, Erika wants to concentrate on the need and importance for state resources to promote independent living.
For years after her injury, Erika contemplated why that one moment that changed her life forever happened. In her own words,”I knew in my heart that there was a bigger and more meaningful reason for something to change my life so drastically. It couldn't have happened without a bigger purpose.” Erika has now come to believe that everything does truly happen for a reason and looks forward to sharing her story to encourage others.
2009 – Michelle Colvard of Texas
Ms. Wheelchair Texas 2008 was crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2009 on July 26th, 2008 at the Hilton Hotel in Rockville, Maryland. Michelle was crowned on the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Houston and earned her Master’s degree in Health Promotion from The University of Texas School of Public Health. Michelle was born with Spina Bifida and has used a wheelchair since the 6th grade – but those who know her don’t see her wheelchair, or her disability.
With her background in health promotion research and a strong focus on women’s issues, her platform as Ms. Wheelchair America 2009 emphasizes the importance for people of all abilities to take responsibility for their health and wellness. Michelle stays active with skiing, basketball, kayaking and traveling. She also races her MINI Cooper in autocross competitions, even taking 2nd place in her class.
As Ms. Wheelchair Texas and in her position as the Executive Director of Houston’s Mayor’s Office for the People with Disabilities, Michelle is an active advocate for people of all abilities. Michelle is also the past Chairperson of the Houston Commission on Disabilities and the winner of the Jefferson’s Award in recognition of her volunteer service. Among her achievements is her involvement in “Playgrounds Without Limits”. Houston’s first inclusive playgrounds for all children. As Ms. Wheelchair America 2009, Michelle helps prove that women who “happen to use wheelchairs” can be every bit as successful, vibrant, and powerful as other women.
2008 – Kristen McCosh of Massachusetts
Kristen McCosh was crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2008. Ms. McCosh lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her husband John.
Kristen uses a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury (SCI) sustained at the age of 15, and has over twenty years experience in disability issues as an advocate, community organizer, speaker, writer, researcher, and peer mentor.
Ms. McCosh spent the last year traveling across the country doing outreach and advocacy work on behalf of people with disabilities.
“I will be working hard to spread the word about the accomplishments and achievements of people who use wheelchairs. I will also be advocating for vital programs and services that facilitate empowerment and success for people with disabilities, such as employment, success, education, transportation, housing, health care, and more, ” McCosh said.
“I try to encourage people in wheelchairs to remain as active and healthy as possible,” McCosh said, adding that she exercises regularly at a local YMCA. She works part time at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston as an Early Intervention Peer Mentor, helping newly-injured people adjust to life in a wheelchair. She also leads a weekly wheelchair aerobics class there.
Ms. McCosh is employed full-time as the Editor of Solutions e-Magazine, a publication of Hire Disability Solutions, LLC. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in English and Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and had studied towards her Master of Public Health Degree (MPH) at Boston University School of Public Health. In her spare time, Ms. McCosh is writing a women’s fiction novel series featuring women with disabilities as heroines.
“My message is much more about empowerment than inspiration, McCosh added noting, “I feel honored to have been selected as a leader among this field of amazing women.”
2007 – Autumn Grant of Massachusetts
Autumn Grant, Ms. Wheelchair America 2007 is the current Ms. Wheelchair America Inc. Secretary and previously served in the “At-Large” position on the Board of Directors. In addition, she is the State Coordinator of the Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts Foundation, her involvement with the foundation began in 2006 when she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts. She is an academic advisor at Bridgewater State College and was recently recognized as one of only ten academic advisors internationally as an “Emerging Leader” by the National Academic Advising Association. Autumn has a bachelor’s degree from Providence College and a master’s degree from Boston College.
- Ms. Wheelchair America Board of Directors
- Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts State Coordinator
- Ms. Wheelchair America 2007
- Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts 2006
2006 – Kristen Connors of Rhode Island
Kristen Connors was born in Providence, Rhode Island and now resides in Cranston, Rhode Island. She graduated from East Greenwich High School and attended Rhode Island College where she studies political science. Kristen is currently a constituent caseworker for US Congressman James Langevin. As such, Kristen handles issues regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act, Veterans and Military concerns, and issues related to Education and Housing. In addition, she represents the Congressman on several boards and commissions, including PARI Independent Living Center, TechAccess, the Rhode Island Home Choice Coalition, Rhodes to Independence Housing Work Group, and the Youth Leadership Forum. She also represents the Congressman at special events when his Congressional duties keep him in Washington, D.C.
Kristen was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a form of Muscular Dystrophy, at 15 months. She has used a wheelchair for mobility since elementary school. Her parents, Pat & Jerry decided early on that they would not think about the things Kristen was unable to do, but rather concentrate on what she could do. Each year her parents would speak to her teachers and made it a point to instruct them that Kristen was not to be treated special because of her disability but should be treated like all other children.
Kristen’s hobbies include watching movies, singing and traveling. She recently began to bi-ski. She volunteers for the Muscular Dystrophy Association at fundraisers throughout the year and received the MDA Rhode Island State Personal Achievement Award for 2005. In addition, she is a member of the Young Democrats of Rhode Island and has served as a State Democratic Convention Delegate. Kristen has volunteered on many local and state political campaigns. She also teaches confirmation classes at her church, Holy Apostles. Kristen enjoys spending time with her family, especially her two nephews Connor and Christopher, and her dog, Emmy.
Kristen has combined her employment and leadership knowledge and her advocacy work to pursue her platform of “Breaking down attitudinal barriers for people with disabilities in the workforce”. Individuals with disabilities face many barriers every day – from physical obstacles in buildings to systemic barriers in employment. Yet, often the most difficult barriers to overcome are the negative attitudes that people with disabilities can encounter in the workplace. Kristen’s philosophy is that we are the only ones who can set limits for ourselves and our potential; no one else can. Kristen’s personal life and life in the workforce reflects this belief. She started working summer jobs when she was 14 and has never let barriers hold her back. In Kristen’s own words, “If I had allowed other people to set limits for me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. As far as I am concerned, there are no limits and I hope this holds true for you as well.”
2005 – Juliette Rizzo of Maryland
Juliette empowers Americans with disabilities though her Ms. Wheelchair platform, “Power through Participation: Illuminating Opportunities for People with Disabilities.” She believes that community participation is more than having a physical presence but is also about finding your identity through your involvement in personal contribution to community life.
2004 Cinda Hughes of Oklahoma
2003 Catherine Gugala of Wisconsin
2002 Candy Marsh of Colorado
2001 Nicki Ard of South Carolina
2000 Tracy Charlton-O’Conner of South Dakota
1999 Christina Gilmore of Wisconsin
1998 Terri Cecil of Kentucky
1997 Elaine Stefanowicz of Washington
1996 Amy Baxter-Ley of Texas
1995 Wendy Petzold of Wisconsin
1994 Dawn Blodgett of California
1993 Kim Mensi of Alabama
1992 Deanna VanHook of Texas
1991 Mercedes Rodriguez-Fowler of Florida
1990 Kathy Garcia Farnsworth of Utah
1989 Jewell Massey of Georgia
1988 Peggy Simpson of Alabama
1987 Sandra Honbaier of North Carolina
1986 Donna Cline of Nevada
1985 Lori Cottam of Utah
1984 Gaynell Colburn of Maryland
1983 Barbara Crozier of Alabama
1982 Marian Schooling-Vessells of Maryland
1981 Vivian Thompson of Massachusetts
1980 Nancy Pudvin of Georgia
1979 Marge Chmielewski of Michigan
1978 Margie Sloan of Georgia
1977 Beverly Chapman of Florida
1976 Dixie Lee Etheridge of Mississippi
1975 Kathy Smith-Tiley of Alabama
1974 Janie Robinson of Texas
1973 Patricia Nevins of Michigan