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How This Pageant Empowers Girls with Disabilities to Be 'Unstoppable'

On April 2, 2016, I coordinated the Arc of Sedgwick County’s third annual Miss Unstoppable Pageant in Wichita, Kansas. After many years of volunteering with the Arc, I heard that the pageant’s founder was leaving, and knew it was a program I could not let disappear. The pageant is for girls with developmental disabilities ages 5 and up who want to show the world what makes them unstoppable. Each girl competes in interview, runway, talent, and evening gown to earn the title of Miss Unstoppable. Five girls were crowned in their age division, and one girl was crowned overall Miss Unstoppable. It’s not all about the crown, however.

In preparation for the pageant, the girls attended a fall and spring workshop where they learned interview skills, an opening number dance routine, and most importantly, how to advocate for themselves. Each girl was given a tiara worksheet at fall workshop in which they wrote what makes them unstoppable. From there, they learned that their disability does not define them, because they are unstoppable.

Miss Unstoppable Pageant contestants in evening gowns
Miss Unstoppable 2016 contestants

The former Miss Unstoppable 2015, Erica, spoke to the girls about what her year as Miss Unstoppable was like and why she believes all of her friends with disabilities are unstoppable as well. Erica served as a representative of those with disabilities and was even part of the #BeUnstoppable Campaign with her personal message: “No need to call me autistic, I prefer queen.”

Throughout the year the girls continued training and learning to truly appreciate everything they can do, instead of focusing on their challenges. All of the preparation led up to pageant day, where each girl received a state finalist award along with many other awards. The new Miss Unstoppable, Rebecca, was crowned Saturday afternoon. It was only fitting that she was crowned on April 2, Autism Awareness Day. Rebecca blew the crowd away with her talent as she performed a beautiful folk song on the violin with the piano accompaniment of her mother. Her smile and charm throughout the competition gave her the overall high score, and the audience roared when her name was called.

Woman with a disability wearing a tiara

When doing a quick interview after the pageant, she looked at the camera and said “I am not defined by my disability, I am unstoppable!”

The impact this pageant has on our contestants is astounding. I could tell many stories about what these girls have learned and experienced, but I will simply share one moment that truly sticks out from this year. During one of our contestant’s private interviews, I stepped in the room and told her she had 30 seconds to tell the judges any last thing she wanted them to know. Afterward, I heard her say to them, “If I am crowned Miss Unstoppable, I will show every person I meet respect, and tell everyone that they are unstoppable and not defined by their disabilities.” That is the moment I realized that the Miss Unstoppable Pageant was really making a difference. These girls truly believe they are unstoppable, and are confident enough to start telling others. The Miss Unstoppable pageant continues to change lives and leave an incredible message in everyone’s heart.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.