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From Apples to Advocacy

Teacher Dayniah Manderson embraces her role as Ms. Wheelchair NY 2017

For Dayniah Manderson, a teacher, writer and mother with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) from New York City, being in a pageant at age 37 wasn’t really on her radar. But when she received a nomination for Ms. Wheelchair NY 2017, she was taken aback — at first.

“Initially, I was disinterested because I didn’t know what the world of pageantry is about,” she says. “But after someone contacted me and explained it to me, it became more appealing. They had to do a little convincing, but ultimately I appreciate them pushing me to do it.”

Ms. Wheelchair America is an advocacy platform for women with disabilities. The program operates in 27 states, including New York.

“When I was completing the [Ms. Wheelchair] application, I didn’t consider myself an advocate, but once I did think about it, [I saw] that my teaching and way of living life in general make me an advocate,” Manderson says. “Once I had fully wrapped my head around what this would mean, I realized that I was only helping myself and others on a larger scale, and I was thinking about that perspective and utilizing the time I have to enact that change I’m hoping to see.”

This year, Manderson is fundraising to represent New York in the 2018 national Ms. Wheelchair pageant and enjoying her Ms. Wheelchair NY duties, including doing media interviews and attending panel discussions that have covered topics, including sexuality and inclusive environments for individuals with disabilities. Manderson says that she loves doing the “grunt work” of getting out there and starting conversations with people.

“We’re trying to build compassion in society by exposing people to the accomplishments of people [with disabilities] and to our day-to-day lives,” she says. “There are shared experiences between ambulatory and non-ambulatory people, between disabled and able-bodied people. We do integral things in the community just like anyone else.”

And like so many others, Manderson gets up every day to go to work, takes care of her 11-year-old daughter and finds time to nurture her hobbies, like writing. While she acknowledges juggling all of her commitments is tough, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a fulfilling journey, but it’s a lot of work,” she says. “Anyone who teaches public school can tell you it’s no walk in the park, and I’m a single parent of a middle-schooler, and I’m responsible for supervising my home attendants, and all of those things existed before I got the [Ms. Wheelchair NY] title. But I love committing. It’s good to push my boundaries and stretch my limits.” 

Thanks to her love of pushing her own limits, Manderson has been able to spread her disability awareness message wider than ever before.

“I just want people to become more sensitive to the deficit in society,” she says. “We all grow old, anyone can have a child with a physical or developmental disability, and unless people make a strategic decision to make society in general more equitable — for things to be in place when they need it — that person with a disability will be a burden. It’s about the future, and it has to be collaborative.”

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Find personal stories about individuals living unlimited with neuromuscular diseases on Strongly, the MDA blog.

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