PLEASANT HILL, Calif. - The contestants wore sashes and the winner received a crown, but this weekend’s 2019 Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant wasn’t a traditional beauty contest. Rather, it was a competition to find the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman to represent and advocate for people with physical disabilities.
On Saturday, three California women in wheelchairs competed for the title, with Redwood City resident Angela Piazza, 48, crowned the winner.
Over the next several months, Piazza, who was born with cerebral palsy, will speak at schools, local and state disability organization events, make at a public appearance every two weeks, fundraise and meet with local and state representative on disability issues.
“It’s going to be a change, but all for the good. My weekends will be very busy now. but I’m excited for that,’’ she said. “I’m going to make them proud with what I’m going to do.”
Piazza, who works for a non-profit social service agency serving those developmental disabilities, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism, created her pageant platform around working on local and statewide policies to improve the lives of disabled people.
“This is all about leadership. It’s all about educating and advocating,’’ she said. “The Americans with Disabilities Act has a long way to go.”
Kara Paulson, a 52-year-old Southern California woman, was the first runner-up in Saturday’s pageant at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill. Paulson is a writer, who is also a counselor at a camp for children with disabilities. Paulson uses a wheelchair following a spinal cord injury sustained in a car accident when she was in her 20s. This was her second attempt at the crown.
This year’s contest was a first for Debbie Hamilton, 59, of Colfax. A former public health nurse, Hamilton became a quadriplegic following a car collision 14 years ago. A married mother of two adult children and three grandchildren, Hamilton’s contest platform was “follow your heart’s desire and roll into your community and make a difference."
In July, Piazza will travel to Little Rock, Arkansas to compete in the Ms. Wheelchair America, which is expected to draw between two and three dozen contestants from states nationwide. The national contest was started in 1972 by and Ohio doctor to highlight the achievements of women with disabilities
Last year, Krystina Jackson of Dublin, was named second runner-up in that pageant, which featured 26 state pageant winners contending for the national title in a competition based also on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation.