Shannon Webster of Naperville was not named Ms. Wheelchair America, but her speech about the importance of employment for people with disabilities won her an award at this year's national pageant.
Webster, 25, gave the best speech about her platform among any of the 25 competitors in the pageant, judges determined during the annual event earlier this month in Pennsylvania.
"I was overjoyed to win the best speech award because it validated my purpose to be a voice for those with all levels of abilities," she said.
Webster, who has cerebral palsy, is passionate about promoting the belief among people with disabilities that they can achieve the careers they want and the knowledge among employers that it doesn't have to be difficult to make accommodations for people with physical or cognitive challenges.
Her passions came through during the two-minute, memorized speech she delivered Aug. 18, and she enjoyed hearing the causes that motivated her peers who were vying for the crown.
"It was so empowering to meet 24 other women passionate about disability advocacy across the country," Webster said.
Although she wasn't elevated from her state's wheelchair queen for 2017 to become the national queen, Webster said she plans to continue her advocacy, further motivated by her time at the national event.
"It was the most rewarding and humbling experience of my life, thus far," she said.
On the job as a corporate recruiter for Exelon in Chicago, Webster advocates by leading training sessions about how to interview people with disabilities and by proving she can make the 90-minute commute by car, train and taxi three times a week, working from home the other two.
In the community in Naperville, she spreads her message by giving talks, posting on social media and meeting with organizations such as adaptive physical education classes at her alma mater, Naperville Central High School, and members of the city's accessible community task force.
Webster is preparing to pass off her crown and sash at the conclusion of the Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2018 pageant, which is scheduled to take place in October in Oak Brook.