For as long as I’ve been able to talk, I have never been afraid to speak my mind. At the age of three I got up in front of the March of Dimes saying “My name is Christine and I use a wheelchair, and now I’m going to eat my mac n’ cheese,” proudly solidifying my role as a disabled advocate. By the time I was six, my parents were seeking an outlet for all of my creative spunk and energy, thus my foray into performing began. The pinnacle of my childhood came at the age of 10 when my mom took me fito my first day playing youth wheelchair basketball at the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP) in Berkeley, CA. Here I not only learned the skills needed to run a successful pick and roll, but the chance to interact, learn and develop with people who were just like me. With the help of my peers I learned how to navigate airports with my basketball chair and luggage, pop down curbs when no curb cutout was available, see the country and realize I could live an independent and full life. While I had to put my acting passion on hold, I still participated in high school choir, placed and participated in district wide speech contests three years in a row, and educated a myriad of audiences on disability awareness.
In 2007 I began a 2.5-year stint at the University of Arizona, after receiving a scholarship to play on the Nationally ranked U.S. Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team. My second year at the U of A opened new doors that led me to join the wheelchair tennis team and become a writing skills coach for incoming minority students. fiIncluded in this group of new students were first generation college students, International students and students with disabilities. In 2010 I made the daunting but fruitful life changing decision to transfer to the University of the fiPacific in Stockton, CA. While U of A is known for their competitive adaptive athletics program, it wasn’t until I got to UOP that I was able to reconnect with my passion for the disability community. As a Communications Major I had the unique opportunity to delve into studying the impact of the media on the disability comfimunity and present my findings at a research conference of my peers and outside
professionals. I graduated cum laude in 2012 and had the privilege of being my graduating class’s University Flag Bearer.
fiMy life became the true definition of “is this real life?” when, after nearly a decade in the corporate world, I landed a role as a talent managfier representing high profile Deaf and Disabled talent at C Talent Management in Los Angeles. When I’m not working my dream job, you’ll fifind me on or near a stage, visiting my Cast Member brother at The Happiest Place on Earth, reading the newest romance on my Kindle, and fiattending various musical theatre and sci-fi conventions from California to New York. I’m beyond humbled to use my Ms. Wheelchair America 2022 platform to help put disability back in diversity.
On August 14, 2021 in a pool of 30 national competitors, I had the honor of being crowned as Ms. Wheelchair America 2022. Unlike other pageants, this was not one based on beauty but on disability advocacy. The journey began for me on February 28th, 2020 when I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair
California. When the pandemic hit, it seemed like a wrench would have been thrown in advocacy plans, however for me as a creative individual, I viewed this as a chance to think outside the box on my advocacy. I got to lead workshops, read disability themed books, and host casual webinars. I even created my own podcast fiwhere I brought on notable figures from the disability community, including Emmy award winning poet/lyricist/music producer Leroy Moore. Hearing his stories of living as a multi minority, fisparked a fire inside me to help ensure that disability was included in all talks of diversity. For too long I sat in Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) talks and disability, despite being the largest minority in the world and one that anyone can join at any point, is one that is hardly ever brought into the room, let alone proactively discussed. Growing up as a Danville resident (graduate of San Ramon Valley High School 07), provided ample opportunity to bring my advocacy to classmates, orchestrating disability awareness days and hosting exhibition wheelchair basketball games. During my reign I will be traveling the country attending Ability Expos (most recent was LA), visiting fellow advocates and spreading my message of putting disability back in diversity.
By Christine Burke, Miss Wheelchair America 2022