Wheelchair Pageant Winner Stripped Of Title After Standing
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 5, 2005
APPLETON, WISCONSIN--Just two months after being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin, Janeal Lee has had to step down.
The pageant's board of directors took the title from the 30-year-old high school math teacher after the Post-Crescent published pictures of her standing and walking around in the classroom. One pageant official said they did not want the public to see Ms. Wheelchair out of her wheelchair, or in Lee's case, her motorized scooter.
Lee, who was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy as a teenager, claimed she had informed pageant organizers that she sometimes stands. She said that Gina Hackel, last year's title holder and the current state coordinator, recruited Lee over the winter knowing that she does not use the scooter all of the time. She told the Post-Crescent that the move to have her title pulled only came after Lee complained that ADA lawsuits Hackel was filing against local businesses were making it difficult for Lee to be an advocate for people with disabilities.
"I am not going to compromise who I am as a person to fit the stereotype, to have a title," Lee said. "That's not what I'm about. I'm not going to pretend to be more disabled so I can fit the mold."
"The way they see it, you're either 100 percent disabled or 0 percent disabled, when in reality everyone is somewhere in between. It gives us a narrow view of who a person with a disability is," she said. "I've been made to feel as if I can't represent the disabled citizens of Wisconsin because I'm not disabled enough."
Lee's 26-year-old sister, Sharon Spring, who also has muscular dystrophy, has resigned her title as Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota. Jen Onsum, Minnesota's state coordinator, resigned as well.
Back in Wisconsin, first runner up Michelle Kearney, refused on Saturday to take the crown.
"Who is to say who is more disabled and less disabled than another person?" Kearney said. "Had I accepted (the crown), it's as if I had been saying I'm OK with the decision," she said. "I thought they educated and advocated about disabilities."
The title is now with second runner-up, Kim Jerman of Waukesha.
"Ms. Wheelchair loses title for standing" (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
"Former Ms. Wheelchair will remain involved" (Post-Crescent)
"Disability's shades of grey" (Lincoln Journal-Star)
"Pageant fallout continues" (Post-Crescent)