Dethroned 'Ms. Wheelchair' Given New Title
Apr. 28, 2005
APPLETON, Wis. (AP) _ The high school teacher who lost her Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin title after she was seen standing in a newspaper photo has been given a new honor _ Miss disAbility International.
Janeal Lee is the charter titleholder of a new competition being launched by the Oklahoma City-based World Association of Persons With Disabilities in response to the furor over the Ms. Wheelchair dispute, said George Kerford, the group's chairman emeritus.
``We are focusing on abilities,'' he said Wednesday. ``We want to project the images of these people who happen to be classified as disabled.''
Lee, a math teacher who has progressive muscular dystrophy, won the Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin title in January. The honor was taken away several weeks later after a picture showing her standing in her classroom was published in a supplement to The Post-Crescent newspaper of Appleton.
The pageant organization said candidates for the crown have to ``mostly be seen in the public'' using their wheelchairs or scooters. Lee says she can walk up to 50 feet on a good day and stand while teaching but uses a scooter as her main way to get around.
The 19-year-old World Association of Persons With Disabilities had called for the title to be reinstated, saying dethroning Lee sent a bad message.
Kenford said the new titles bestowed to Lee and the group's Mr. disAbility International _ Tom Mecke of San Antonio _ were mostly symbolic. Future winners will go through a competition that will be open to people both mentally and physically disabled.
Lee, 30, said Wednesday she was excited about her new title, down to the lowercase 'd' and uppercase 'A.'
``It tells you the focus of the program is on people's abilities and I think that is excellent,'' she said.
Her first jobs as Miss disAbility International are to put together a Web site and arrange speaking engagements, she said.