Miss America inspires UA students, faculty

By Elizabeth Hill

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The first woman with a disability was crowned Miss America at the 68th annual pageant Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J.

Heather Whitestone, 21, a native of Birmingham, Ala., is deaf.

Whitestone won two preliminary competitions, swimsuit and talent. She is the 28th woman in pageant history to do this.

Her talent routine was a ballet performed to the song "Via Dolorosa." Whitestone choreographs her routine by first sitting and feeling the vibrations of the music. Then she continues to listen counting the beats in her head and memorizing them. Her dance then coincides with the beats in the music.

To the University of Arizona deaf community this means a sense of normalcy in mainstream society.

Shirin Antia, associate professor of special education and rehab said, "It does give a message to the world (that) a particular problem such as deafness really does not inhibit a person."

"She showed us her courage, competence, and confidence," said Sean Blake, a history senior. Blake was happy for Whitestone, and said he watched the end of the competition.

"She really had to do a lot to stay in competition," Blake explained, saying she was thrust into mainstream society. "She had to compete with hearing people from local competition on."

Deaf education graduate student Hal Mortensen said he is excited that deaf people will become more visible.

"They are normal just like you and I," he said. Mortensen is hard of hearing, and he said people sometimes yell at him and treat him as "lower class."

"Sometimes the public can be ignorant as to what we (deaf people) can or cannot do," said Michael Del Vecchio, a biochemistry junior.

Mortensen said he thinks the new Miss America will bring the deaf community into the mainstream, and the "awareness will help" the community.

Said family studies senior Monica Olivas: "Maybe they're starting to accept people with differences."

Sign language adjunct instructor Cindy Volk said she appreciated the appropriate terminology used during the pageant the term is just deaf, not deaf mute or deaf and dumb.

Volk thought the fact that Whitestone is "oral" might be a negative connotation to deaf people. "There might be an idea all deaf people can speak and lip-read," she said. That is not the case for most deaf people.

Gary Hand, a deaf education graduate student, said he wondered whether the judges pitied her because of her deafness. He said he is happy for Whitestone and the deaf community.

Rachel Hardesty, a special education and rehabilitation graduate student, said she is not a big fan of the pageant, but she thought the new winner is "a good example of the pageant wanting a woman to be more real."

Wire stories contributed to this article.

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