We at mobileWOMEN were thrilled to connect with this year’s Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania, Danielle DeAngelis! We asked Danielle to share her story and then answer a few questions to learn more about her platform, goals and motivation. In Danielle’s words:
My name is Danielle DeAngelis and I’m 27 years old from Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. I graduated from Jim Thorpe Area High School in 2010. After high school, I attended Lehigh Carbon Community College studying early childhood education when my studies were cut short due to a horrific car accident that happened on March 7th, 2011. At only 19 years old, I sustained a spinal cord injury and I spent nearly three months in the hospital recovering. I had to learn how to adapt to a whole new life.
When I came home from the hospital. I spent years soul searching and trying to find my purpose in life, but I hit rock bottom. I was so depressed. I remember feeling so alone and not having anyone that I could talk to that could relate. I contemplated suicide more times than I can count. I was just so angry with what happened to me. This wasn’t what I imagined my future to look like. I always questioned “why” and It pained my heart, having to accept the fact that this is my life now.
After awhile, I figured I couldn’t change what’s happened to me, but I do have control over my attitude and I can change that, so I devoted myself to studying the bible and finding peace and acceptance in Jesus. He’s given me the strength on days where I didn’t think I could make it. And then he blessed me with my first fur baby, Mishea. Mishea was a rescue brindle boxer, but to me she was my angel; she saved me. I connected with her more than I ever thought that I could connect with a dog. I truly feel like she was sent to me when I needed that extra love, and to give me something to live for. In a way, I feel like she needed that too. This past Thanksgiving she passed over the rainbow bridge. My girl who helped me in my darkest times, was gone. I was devastated.
I am so thankful for the support of my family and friends because they assured me that it can’t rain forever. And sure enough, I came across the Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania ad on social media, and I thought to myself, “This is awesome. I wonder what would happen if I competed and actually won?! What did I have to lose?” I made it my mission to find out more about the competition and what you had to do to compete because to my understanding, pageants were your typical “based on looks beauty pageant” but that wasn’t what Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania was about; this is where things finally took a turn for the better. I learned that the competition wasn’t a beauty pageant but instead a program to give women with physical disabilities a platform to promote achievements as well as the needs for persons with disabilities.
I competed for the title of Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania on January 5th 2019 in Erie PA. It was one of the most exciting experiences that I’ve had since being a wheelchair user. I was under the impression that I would be competing against two other girls but to my surprise neither of them showed up. I was then told by the state coordinator that I would still have to go through the motions of the competition and score accordingly, which included four different judging questions and an on-stage two minute speech. The pressure was on; it was as if I was competing with myself. I had to keep reminding myself that what’s meant to be, will be. That evening, I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2019.
Since the crowning, I have been fundraising, doing speaking engagements and raising awareness about my platform to make businesses more wheelchair accessible. I’ve traveled to Philadelphia a couple of times, Johnstown, Butler and there will be more to come! My most memorable experience so far has been being a part of the Little Miss "I’m a Star Pageant” for children with intellectual disabilities. I had the honor of being co-MC for the night where I introduced 13 special girls on stage. Each girl had the opportunity to show off their talent whether they were playing an instrument, singing, or dancing. It truly melted my heart to see them on stage carefree and feeling included, because no two stars are alike. I also had the honor of having a meeting with our state representative, Mr. Doyle Heffley.
It’s only been a few months since being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania and I see the bigger picture now. I feel like I’ve finally found my purpose in life. I don’t question why anymore, because why not me? This is my rainbow. I’m so excited to see what the future will bring! The sky is the limit! Even on your worst days, never stop dreaming. If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.
mW: Thank you for sharing your powerful story with us! Can you tell us a little more about your injury?
DD: My injury level is T9-T11. I have full use of my upper body and I’m a full time wheelchair user.
mW: Your journey to recovery has understandably been a tough one both physically and emotionally. What gave you the confidence to enter Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania?
DD: What gave me the confidence to enter Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania was believing in myself and letting go of my doubts and fear of failure.
mW: Can you tell us more about your platform?
DD: My platform is to help make businesses more accessible for people with disabilities, whether that’s adding curb cuts to sidewalks, portable ramps, more accessible parking spots, as well as more accessible bathroom stalls. I plan on speaking to business owners directly to educate them and increase awareness.
mW: Why did you choose this specific platform and why is it important to you?
DD: I chose this platform because I didn’t want to feel limited anymore nor should anyone else. I know being a wheelchair-user that a lot of places aren’t accessible. This platform is important to me because I have a whole life ahead of me, I want to make the best of it even if I have to do it sitting and I want the same for others.
mW: What advice would you give to someone struggling with their disability?
DD: I would have to say to focus on things you CAN do. Positivity is key.
mW: What advice would you give someone considering entering Ms. Wheelchair in their state?
DD: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walschb
mW: Any other goals or dreams for the future?
DD: My dreams for the future would be to continue my advocacy work, and also someday get married and start a family.