A new national spokeswoman for people with disabilities will be chosen this week in central Iowa. The 31st annual Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant opens tomorrow (Tuesday) and it’s the first time the national contest has been held in Iowa. Judy Hoit, of Iowa City, is coordinating the , and says there are 24 contestants who will be taking part in the pageant in Des Moines. Hoit says the primary goal is to make people more aware of accessibility issues in Iowa and nationwide. Contestants range in age from 21 to 60 and must be confined to a wheelchair. Marital status is not a consideration. Hoit says it’s not a beauty contest and there’s no swimsuit competition. The contestants are all judged on their achievements and accomplishments since the onset of their disability, and on their speaking abilities. Among the contestants — Ms. Wheelchair Iowa is 42-year-old Debi Scharf, a mother of two from Altoona. Hoit says the winner of the Ms. Wheelchair America title will go on a nationwide public speaking tour to highlight not her disability, but her many abilities. Hoit has spend more than five decades in a wheelchair. She’s a polio survivor and was Iowa’s first Ms. Wheelchair in 1996. The pageant finals are Saturday night at the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines.
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