- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

Excuse me handsome, what time do you have?” asks Angela Miller, Ms. Wheelchair D.C. 2009, of Bernard Harrison as she scoots through the hallways of the District’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

“She’s always on the move,” says Mr. Harrison, of the D.C. Public Library’s Adaptive Services Division, to a visitor after informing Ms. Miller that it’s 3:45 p.m.

A 1983 graduate of H.D. Woodson High School in the District, Ms. Miller was a victim of a crime in 1996 that left her with traumatic brain injury and in a wheelchair.

“Four men raped me,” she said. “They tried to kill me by hitting me over the head with a pipe. And they left me for dead, but I didn’t die.”

Ms. Miller, who spent 10 months at Howard University Hospital in recovery, has been in a wheelchair since 1997.

In late August, competing alongside women from 28 states, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ms. Wheelchair America 2010 pageant held in Rapid City, S.D.

The Ms. Wheelchair D.C. 2010 pageant will be held Saturday at HSC Pediatric Center at 1731 Bunker Hill Road in Northeast Washington. The winner will compete in the national Ms. Wheelchair America 2011 pageant.

WTOP-FM’s “Man About Town,” Bob Madigan, will serve again as the master of ceremonies. “Angela is a perfect example of someone who is able to adjust and adapt,” he said. “Anyone who spends time with her cannot help but be inspired. I just wish that more people could meet these women because we can all learn from them.”

Ms. Miller says, “You have to be adaptable to everything nowadays. I try to be adaptable to help others.”

Since 1972, Ms. Wheelchair America, operating as a traditional beauty pageant, has emphasized the inherent beauty in women while competing on the pillars of “advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation,” according to its Web site. Contestants are mothers, students, athletes and social activists who are able to educate and have advocated for 52 million Americans living with disabilities.

Ms. Miller is drawn to the library on weekends, when information sessions help patrons better access new technologies. The Adaptive Services space on the second floor was renovated this year and increased its workstations from three to 12.

Angela’s talks at our Saturday info sessions and at the Inclusion Research Leadership program inspire young adults in the disability community with her passion,” said Patrick Timony, an adaptive-technology librarian. “She’s really changed the spirit of the event. When Angela is here, people don’t just learn about technologies, they learn about attitude and strategies for success how to make things happen by connecting to other people in the community, especially people who you might not have thought you had anything in common with.”

When Ms. Miller is not at the library or traveling, she assists with medical billing and other clerical duties at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, where she also volunteers as a mentor for other people with disabilities.

At the national pageant in Rapid City, S.D., in August, Ms. Miller was interviewed for an independent documentary, “Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America.” It followed five women as they competed for the title of Ms. Wheelchair America 2010. The winner was Ms. Wheelchair North Carolina, Erika Bogan, who has been a paraplegic since a 2002 automobile accident.

Angela’s strength, perseverance, and great sense of humor are truly inspiring,” Director Alexis Ostrander said. “She and the other contestants don’t let their disability define who they are. They’re breaking stigmas through their advocacy work, helping to change society’s perception of what it means to have a disability.”

Since 2001, the District has fielded a representative to the national pageant, thanks to Jeri Wasco, Ms. Wheelchair D.C.’s main coordinator.

Angela’s advocacy has raised the profile of individuals living with disabilities,” Ms. Wasco said. “To go to a national competition and bring home a prestigious award has meant a lot to the program. She did it all on her own.”

c John Muller is a freelance writer and photographer living in Montgomery County.

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