A new national spokeswoman for people with disabilities was crowned in Des Moines over the weekend, the first time the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant was held in Iowa. Cinda Hughes of Oklahoma was born with arthrogryposis multiplex, a neuromuscular deformity that will keep her confined to a wheelchair for life. Hughes is preparing for a year ahead filled with travel as she’ll wheel into schools, before civic groups and Congress to talk about accessibility. Hughes works as a front desk receptionist and a research assistant in Oklahoma City and will have to take some time off.

She works 40 hours a week at the Oklahoma State Senate Staff Office and says her employer has been “a wonderful support system.” Hughes is part Kiowa and Cherokee, the first Ms. Wheelchair America of Native American descent. She says “The majority of American Indians do live with disabilities — three out of five American Indians live with a disability due to the long-term effects of cardio vascular disease and diabetes.” Hughes says she’ll be a catalyst for bringing more awareness to the continuing difficulties and discrimination of people with disabilities.

Hughes says “I truly believe that change starts each individual at a time and that once a woman becomes comfortable in her own skin, then she is in a more constructive position to be active with her family, community and society as a whole.” Hughes lives with her two sons and her sister. It wasn’t a beauty pageant but one based on accomplishments and public speaking abilities. Ms. Wheelchair Iowa, Debi Scharf, who was paralyzed in a car crash ten years ago, was named first runner up from among contestants from 24 states.