A woman sits in a wheelchair wearing a crown, Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana sash, holds a bouquet of flowers. Standing behind her are three members of her family.

Tamara Green, Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana and her family. Photo: Ticilus Williams 

Imagine if the duties as winner of the Miss America Pageant were to immediately become a combatant against big insurance and to lead other women, those with disabilities in front, inspiring many others, to further independence and action.

Well, in many respects the winner of the Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana plays such a role, advocating for a platform that she developed, inspiring other disabled people to mobilize.

On Nov. 2 the Baton Rouge Rehabilitation Hospital hosted the Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana 2020 contest– crowning Tamara Green of Central, Louisiana.

“As your life changes so does your mental health — mental health for the disabled has been overlooked,” said Green in her acceptance speech.

Established in 1972, Ms. Wheelchair America promotes the achievements and needs of people with disabilities. Today as each contestant presents a platform for advocacy, their simple demands immediately confront the private insurance system which consistently denies critical services for the disabled while making super profits.

“People who normally wouldn’t listen to you start to listen when you wear a crown and sash,” said Karen Roy, Ms. Wheelchair America 2019 and Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana 2018.

That’s what makes the Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana contest so beautiful: the winner uses her title to stand up to big insurance and advocate for the expansion of government services that fall short. Even though the staff at the Office of Aging and Adult Services in  Louisiana-the government body that oversees many programs for disabled people-do their utmost for those under their care, there are still waiting lists up to 8 years for many needed services.

Without universal healthcare, the gaps become endless. As Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana 2018, Roy’s “Stand for life” campaign challenged insurance companies to pay for standing wheelchairs which research demonstrates are medically necessary for wheelchair users. This was part of her effort to improve reimbursement for therapeutic technologies that help keep people with disabilities healthy.

Ashley Volion, the 2019 winner, fought for the expansion of in-home services, central for any disabled person struggling for greater independence while remaining in their home communities-essentially taking on Medicaid.

This year Tamara Green is pushing for the inclusion of mental health services for those with physical disabilities. This is a critical issue. Programs such as Medicaid’s long-term care disallows travel to mental health appointments. In addition to many other issues, paralysis is associated with PTSD and anxiety disorders.

“Advocating for healthy mental health, I think that it is overlooked, we’re looked at as just having this physical disability, not knowing the things that we deal with on a day-to-day basis are often mental,” said Green giving a synopsis of her platform.

“We have to look at which insurance companies offer service and which do not, and start making changes.”

Soon, Tamara Green will be printing out business cards and putting up a website to begin organizing.

Her platform ultimately is to build solidarity: “It helps us to inspire one another and you don’t know what the next person is going through.” She added, “I want to make sure we lift up each other.”

The newly-crowned Tamara Green will compete in the upcoming Ms.Wheelchair America contest in Little Rock, Arkansas in the summer of 2020.

Besides breaking barriers, perhaps even more importantly the role of Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana is to inspire other disabled people into action to make change in their lives and to challenge the barriers, especially the systemic ones.

The contest is a day-long event where the women meet.

“Each time I went out to be an advocate I became better and better at it. We learn from each other and we could become better together. The sparkly object on your head is wonderful to have but it’s our mission that’s the magic,” reflected Karen Roy.

It was a real pleasure meeting with Tamara Green and Karen Roy at the event reception, both veterans in overcoming challenges with disabilities. I shared with them some of my successes and challenges over the last year. I told them, “I want to be a writer again.”

Karen Roy didn’t hesitate to inspire: “John, you are a writer.”

And now the work begins.