Former beauty queen speaks on beauty of disability

Mackenzie Moore, 23News reporter

Miss America contestant Nicole Kelly came to campus Oct. 4 for Celebrate Ability Week at MU. She made history as being one of the first ever Miss America contestants with a physical ability, being born without her left forearm.

Kelly spoke about her personal experience with disability to a full crowd at Leadership Auditorium. Kelly also spoke about issues that the disabled community still experiences today.

“I had the chance to share, for about 45 minutes, how I found my disability pride and break down a little bit what the culture of disability looks like,” Kelly said.

Kelly relayed stories of the types of discrimination she faced when she was younger. Kelly recounted a story when she was applying to be a lifeguard at the local country club. She had already been a lifeguard at the community pool and YMCA. But when she did a joint interview with someone else she knew, the employer didn’t say a word to her and she was not hired for the job.

She also discussed how she reclaimed the word disability after she won the 2013 Miss Iowa pageant. Before she won, she avoided using the word. But after she saw her name in headlines with the word “disabled” in it, she started reconsidering her meaning of the word.

Kelly said one other thing that really cemented her feelings about the term “disability” was when she was invited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the passing of The Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is a civil rights law that prevents discrimination based on disability.

Kelly hopes the audience takes one thing away from the lessons she learned.

“To not think of negative things but instead to think of positive things,” Kelly said. “To think disability is beautiful, disability is strong, disability is adaptable.”

MU student Sophie Endacott attended the session to hear Kelly’s motivational speaking. Being a part of the disabled community herself, Endacott was excited to hear from another person in the community.

“I heard about this disability inclusion week and I was really interested,” Endacott said. “I love hearing speakers…I thought it would be really cool to hear what she has to say and probably pretty empowering.”

Due to her disability, Endacott has a service dog. Even though she has a different experiences than Kelly, she still related to her struggles.

“Someone was asking a question about like how she deals with people noticing her physical disability instead of noticing who she is and thats something I really I struggle with,” Endacott said. “Everytime people see me they talk to my dog they say ‘oh my gosh he’s so cute’ and they just ignore me or its like im not even there.”

Endacott discusses how she would like other students to treat her.

“Just be normal and um treat me the same way you treat someone else,” Endacott said. You don’t have to go out of your way to do stuff for me but you don’t have to avoid me just because I have a service dog.”

However, Kelly doesn’t want students to be afraid to talk about disability.

“If you are nervous or scared to ask a question perhaps the best way to start a conversation would be simply to ask “may I ask you a question?,” Kelly said. “Not be ashamed to ask those questions cause disability isn’t something that’s shameful.”

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