Educational workshops, anxiety-ridden interviews, and some fun were mixed into the week leading up to the Ms. Wheelchair America 2014 Pageant, where UTC graduate student and Ms. Wheelchair Tennessee 2013 Bliss Welch was named 1st Runner Up.
Welch was pursing the Master’s in Accountancy degree when she entered and won the Tennessee pageant with the encouragement of family and friends. She’s got something to say about shifting the focus from what people with disabilities cannot do to what they can do. Welch wants to raise awareness of “the abilities of those with disabilities.”
“Having a disability is not a reason to stop living your life and dreaming big. Most of the time the only person stopping you from making your dreams a reality is you,” she said.
The UTC Disability Resource Center has been a source of support for Welch. She has remarked that everyone who works in the office is positive and very helpful to her in many aspects of her academic career.
Center Director Michelle Rigler and her staff work tirelessly to promote inclusion at UTC.
“Our campus culture has improved tremendously over the past five years in regards to people with disabilities. More buildings are fully accessible, more faculty have a strong understanding of disability access issues, more staff think about the impact of disabilities when planning programming,” Rigler explained.
Students like Welch thrive in this environment. When she wasn’t studying or working at Island Cove Marina & Resort in the accounting department, Welch took on an ambitious spring and summer schedule. She helped represent the University at events like Riverbend. She has presented her platform at the House of Representatives, she’s been featured in radio and television stories, and she has even hosted her own golf tournament where she raised more than $12,000.
She visited Westview Elementary, Wolftever Creek Elementary and Snow Hill Elementary classrooms to talk with children about the importance of accepting individual differences. In her blog, Welch said she answered several excellent questions from young students at Wolftever Creek.
“The first question was if I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I told them that because of the Jain Foundation I had high hopes I would NOT need a wheelchair for the rest of my life. The Jain Foundation is doing an amazing thing in the science/research world by bringing scientists and researchers together to share data with the hopes of finding a cure/treatment sooner. The second question was asked by a young lady. She wanted to know what would be the first thing I would do if there was a treatment and I was cured. WOW!! Talk about being put on the spot. I have often dreamed of being cured but never what my ‘first’ action would be. I really had to stop and think. My answer, of course, involved my daughter Annabelle. If I was cured, the first thing I would want to do is to scoop Annabelle up and run outside—to chase her around the yard and roll around in the grass with her. She loves to be outside. I can see it just as plain as day in my mind, can you?”