A Purposeful Life

As Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2019, Danielle DeAngelis of Jim Thorpe, has discovered a fulfilling new direction in life.

With a roll of the proverbial dice, Danielle DeAngelis found her life’s  purpose: advocating for greater public accessibility for people with disabilities. Danielle knows such challenges all too well. For the last eight years, she has relied on a wheelchair for mobility. Now, in her role as Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2019, Danielle has the platform to make a difference.

“There’s a local bar in town my girlfriends go to all the time, but I can’t join them because there’s this huge step to get into the bathroom, and it’s so small inside,” says Danielle. “I feel that because I’m disabled, I don’t have equal rights. I just hope to help make changes for people with disabilities so we’re more included.”

In 2011, Danielle suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident. She was 19 years old, studying at Lehigh Carbon Community College to become a special education elementary school teacher. After her accident, she came to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network for rehabilitation therapy. Danielle continues to follow up with her Good Shepherd doctors.

Danielle entered the Ms. Wheelchair competition on a whim after reading about it on the Facebook page of a spinal cord injury support group. “I thought I had nothing to lose,” she says. “You have to be in a wheelchair and there was no age limit.”

Danielle submitted her application and head shots. One month later she was accepted. Danielle drove six hours to the competition in Erie. She was supposed to compete against two other women. When they both dropped out for various reasons, Danielle wound up facing an unusual competitor. “I literally competed with myself,” she says. “It was more pressure and kind of nerve wracking. You still have to go through the judging to be sure you’re deserving of the title.”

Danielle went through four judging sessions where she was asked a series of random questions, challenging her to think fast. She also gave a two-minute speech before an audience and on live television. Having passed muster with flying colors, Danielle was crowned on January 5.

Danielle has a demanding year-long schedule of appearances and meetings. In her first five weeks alone she traveled to Johnstown, Butler, the Lehigh Valley, and Philadelphia for different events. Not only does she have the opportunity to speak about her platform, she also promotes the Ms. Wheelchair competition and helps recruit new competitors.

“I feel like this is a program that’s not as well known,” says Danielle. “It’s far from being a beauty pageant. It’s based on advocacy and really trying to make changes for people with disabilities.”

Danielle’s experience as Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania has expanded her perspective on living with a disability. “It’s made me more aware that there are other disabilities out there, not just spinal cord injury,” she says. “It’s been really eye opening. I’m not just advocating for myself and spinal cord injury, but also for someone who has cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis.”

Danielle plans to compete nationally in the Ms. Wheelchair America competition being held in Little Rock, Arkansas, in July. But

she won’t stop there. “I feel like I finally found my purpose in life, and that honestly just fills my heart with joy,” she says. “I feel so blessed. I was praying for God to give me something that makes sense of why I’m in a wheelchair. I’m on a high on life.”