More about Michele Leahy
Michele understands disability from 3 unique perspectives. She
was born with Spina Bifida, was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis at age 11 (a form
of Muscular Dystrophy) and was hit by a tow truck at age 23. She received her B.A.
in Humanities at Penn State University. She is a freelance writer for the
Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Financing Program quarterly newsletter, a
monthly column “Chelly In the City”, that is featured in Disabled Dealer
Magazine and contributed to the feminist magazine “Off Our Backs”.
She works to promote new, used, and unique equipment through
sales for Disabled Dealer Magazines. She campaigns for independence through sales
of accessible and adaptive equipment by being a Certified Mobility
As a rower, she won gold and silver medals in the Middle States and
Bayada regattas on the Schuylkill River, even receiving an award from Gold Olympic
medallist Jack Kelly, Jr. She is the first and youngest female with a disability
to so compete.
Michele has independently traveled throughout the United States and
Say Yes To Access!
She also conceived the slogan “Say Yes to Access,” which was
adopted by the Philadelphia Mayoral Commission on People with Disabilities.
Ms. Wheelchair PA 2004 states:
“My family always supported me when I was growing
up. I also have had many mentors and friends in my life. I was always taught that I
could do anything if I put my mind to it and not to let my disability get in the
way, to embrace all of who I am. As I got older I aligned myself with friends where
there was a mutual encouragement. It is so wonderful to know that when I would get
down or when I was doing something new I would have my own private cheerleading
section. (I hope I have done the same for them.) Once when I was confused about my
life and the direction it was heading, a friend gave me a quote from a calendar that
he had been carrying around. It said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take
it”. A quote and philosophy by Yogi Berra I have lived by ever since. I also live
by the philosophy and “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every
wave, find your eternity in each moment.” and “Go confidently in the direction
of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” both by Henry David Thoreau.
These quotes are just little reminders that life is supposed to be lived not
watched. I always try to surround myself with people who are “out of the box”
thinkers and feed off of that pro-active approach.“
Michele A. Leahy, a thirty year old, from Trevose,
Pennsylvania, was crowned “Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2004”. It is now
her job for 2004 to promote disability awareness throughout the Commonwealth of
PA. During this year she will continue the duty of spreading her message of
"Say Yes To Access" through speeches and personal appearances.
Ms. Leahy’s reign has already started. On March 14th she was
the first Ms. Wheelchair PA to be featured in the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day
Parade. It was televised on KYW-TV Channel 3, a local affiliate of CBS. She is
also going scheduled to appear in Lancaster County for the Spina Bifida of Greater
PA Bowling Bash Fundraiser. In April, she will be appearing at the Disability
Resource Pavilion for NBC 10 FitFest at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in
Philadelphia as well as speaking at Small Business Associations throughout
Southeastern PA. In May, Ms. Leahy is scheduled to speak on the Pennsylvania
Senate floor about disability awareness.
She has attended one of the largest yearly events where Pennsylvanians are the
center of attention. She went to the “Weather Capitol of the World”
Punxsutawney, PA, to celebrate Groundhog's Day with Punxsutawney Phil. This was
the first year that a Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania attended such a national event.
She is also looking forward to the Ride To Richmond where she will be representing
Pennsylvanians with disabilities in the Ms. Wheelchair America 2005 Pageant!
The Ms. Wheelchair PA Program is a non-profit organization designed to select the
most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities across
the State of Pennsylvania. Ms. Wheelchair PA is charged with a continuing effort
to educate the public regarding the dignity, productiveness and basic values of
people with disabilities. Ms. Wheelchair PA represents the state of Pennsylvania
in the Ms. Wheelchair America competition.
Ms. Leahy, Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2004, is available for personal appearances
and interviews. For more information, or to schedule an appearance please contact us.
Punxsutawney during Groundhog Day
What did you think of your visit to Punxsutawney during
I thought Groundhog’s Day was great. Visiting Punxsutawney was something I would
have never thought of before. You know that was the furthest west I have been in
PA. Everyone was so wonderful. I like that everyone is beaming with pride about
his or her town and are proud to honor Punxsy Phil.
Where all have you traveled around to in the state for Ms.
Punxsy was my first “official” trip as Ms. Wheelchair PA. I am currently
scheduled to travel to Lancaster, Philadelphia, Bucks County and Harrisburg. I am
going to be speaking on the Senate and House Floors in May at the State Capitol in
Harrisburg. It is my hope to spread awareness through my title about people with
disabilities throughout the state.
What is your favorite thing about being Ms. Wheelchair PA?
My favorite thing about being Ms. Wheelchair PA is promoting awareness about
people with disabilities. The ability to travel throughout the state and be a good
role model to both people with disabilities, as well as the able-bodied public, to
show that we have the same needs and desires as everyone else, is a tremendous
It’s also so wonderful to meet so many people in our state and talk about
current disability issues. PA is such a beautiful state. There is so much that I
haven’t seen before my crowning and I am so fortunate that I am able to travel
around and learn and meet so many interesting people.
I mean, I would have never thought of going to Punxsy to be a part of the
Groundhog Day, it was truly an honor.
What kind of message would you like to relay to the public?
Well, my platform as Ms. Wheelchair PA is “Say Yes To
Access”. Basically that means saying yes to all types of accessibility.
Having our schools, employment, social lives, and homes should all be accessible
to everyone. Be aware that curb cuts are important to people who use wheelchairs.
There is a real purpose for them, not just a luxury for skateboarders. Hiring a
person with a disability is an asset and not a liability. People with disabilities
are used to problem solving and adjusting to their environment, often times having
to adapt to an inaccessible world.
This is considered a good trait in an employee and should be applauded. Wheelchair
users see the world differently, because our perspective is different and I think
this diversity should be celebrated in every aspect of daily life. I hope to help
eliminate the stigma that having a disability is equivalent to being broken. I am
very proud of who I am and that includes my wheelchair. It’s the way I see the
world and there’s nothing wrong with it.
And last but not least, would you ever come back to Punxsy?
Yes, I would come back to Punxsy.
Michele A. Leahy
Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania, 2004