In 1972, Dr. Phillip K. Wood recognized the talents of people with disabilities and established the Ms. Wheelchair America program as a forum for promoting the achievements of women who utilize wheelchairs for mobility. This year’s Ms. Wheelchair America is Karen Roy of Louisiana.
“The mission of Ms. Wheelchair America is to provide an opportunity of achievement for women who happen to be wheelchair users to successfully educate and advocate for the more than 56 million Americans living with disabilities,” said Stephanie Deible, executive director of Ms. Wheelchair America.
“It’s important to note that Ms. Wheelchair America is not a beauty competition,” Deible said. “The competition itself, instead, focuses on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation.”
Similar to the Miss America competition, contestants compete with platforms they promote throughout their title year. Roy’s platform is Stand for Life, because of the standing devices that have brought her better health.
In 1987, a mugging attempt left Roy with a complete T10 spinal cord injury. Therapists at Methodist Rehabilitation Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, helped Roy learn to function in a wheelchair and drive using hand controls. After her injury, she returned to school to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in social work from Louisiana State University.
“I have always been passionate about the standing and electrical stimulation devices that have kept me healthy,” said Roy about her platform.
“I have shared how these devices have kept me free of wounds, contractures and fractures for 31 years. I have explained [to doctors and others] that the cost of these devices is so much cheaper than the cost of trying to heal just one pressure wound.”
Outside of her work with Ms. Wheelchair America, Roy works in sales in the custom wheelchair division and medical supplies at Numotion, a provider of mobility solutions, wheelchairs and mobility equipment. Her role with Numotion has allowed her to be a part of United Spinal’s Roll on Capitol Hill and National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology’s (NCART) Leadership and Advocacy Conference.
The Ms. Wheelchair America competition is held annually with the goal of selecting “the most accomplished, articulate spokeswoman for people with disabilities,” said Deible. “The titleholder must be able to communicate and educate the public, business community and lawmakers about the accomplishments and needs of people with disabilities.”
In 2019, Roy has traveled the country doing just that. She has visited 13 states and more than 20 cities in her appearances at Abilities Expo shows, conferences, support groups and hospitals, as well as attracting the attention of lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Roy hopes to visit 20 more states to spread the word about how technology helps keep people with disabilities healthy before her reign ends.
The next Ms. Wheelchair America competition will be held July 6 in Little Rock, Arkansas.