Joycelyn Banks, a rehabilitation specialist at United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh in Oakland, was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania in March. The disability advocate from McKeesport will represent the state in the national pageant in Little Rock, Ark., on July 31. Donations to help pay for her way to the nationals can be sent to Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania, Inc., P.O. Box 442, Fairless Hills, PA 19030-0442.
What prompted you to participate?
During my first semester at Edinboro [University], I encountered the current title-holder for the year and the second title-holder [since the state pageant was revived in 2000], Jessica McFarlane. She gave a speech in one of my classes. I just thought, "Here is a girl that is making a change using her disability for something that is positive."
I've always been a pageant fan ... I mean, what little girl isn't? ... I actually considered at one point entering the Miss America competition. But then looking at the cost, and considering that no physically disabled woman has ever won the national title or at the state level, I said to myself, "That's probably a waste of time." But [the Ms. Wheelchair pageant] is a platform where I'm measured up against people of my caliber, so to speak, and something that is fair. It also gave me a platform to get my message out. I'm one of those people that want to change the world.
What message do you want to get out?
My message is: People with disabilities are people first. We have dreams, we have abilities ... just like everybody else. We might use a wheelchair to get around, or crutches or whatever. You may get around differently; you may not use your legs as much as a regular typical person. We still have dreams. We have abilities.
How do the pageant officials judge?
Basically, what they're looking for is someone who can articulate the needs of the disability community. What this pageant consists of is a bunch of questions and a two-minute platform speech in what it is you're going to champion as far as disabilities go.
There is no swimsuit competition. If there had been, I probably wouldn't have done it. Evening gown doesn't bother me. Talent doesn't bother me. Interviews don't bother me.
What do you do to prepare yourself for the pageant?
I put myself on what myself on what I call the "nationals" diet. I'm going to start in a couple weeks. I cut out salt, all salt, soda. So for two weeks I'm basically on water, juice, milk ... all the healthy stuff. No junk food. It is important because especially on the national level, you need as much stamina as you can get. So I'm very careful about sleep pattern and nutrition. I have to make sure I'm capable and mentally sharp.
You have to be sharp, because you don't know what they're going to ask you. You have to be able to think on your feet at the snap of your fingers. It's very hard to do this but you need to try to anticipate what they may ask. Which is hard to do because they'll never tell you.
Tell me about the financial aspect of being in a pageant.
It was worse than I ever dreamed. My impression was that once a state title-holder was crowned, the state takes over and pays the expenses, because you're representing the state. Well, that is not true. Every title-holder has to raise their own money for the nationals. Miss America, Miss Universe, Miss USA, they have to do the same thing. I do have the majority of the money raised. However, I'm still accepting donations. You're looking at about $3,000 ... if you want to include everything they want to have.
Think about it. Hair, makeup, nails ... and you want it done right. Airfare, wardrobe, which could be expensive in and of itself. Fortunately I have most of my dresses already. c