Blog Covid-19 Disability Public Health Awareness

Introducing Chandra Smith: Ms. Wheelchair America 2024

Chandra heard about the Ms. Wheelchair Maryland organization from her Occupational Therapist when she was still in rehab. Inspired by the sisterhood of women with disabilities around her, she decided to run.

Last month, the Baltimore City Office of Equity and Civil Rights organized a series of events in honor of Civil Rights Week. This year, they had a very special speaker, Ms. Chandra Smith, the new Ms. Wheelchair America 2024. Ms. Smith spoke about using your voice to advocate for change: “With our story, we have the power to change hearts, and minds to change the world.” To close her remarks, she had the event audience repeat this mantra: “I Matter, You Matter, We Matter!”

Chandra Smith with representatives from Ms. Wheelchair USA.

Becoming Disabled

On September 8, 2021, Chandra acquired her disability after a 7-day water-only religious fast. She was praying for her mother to get an organ transplant that she needed. She fainted and ended up in multi-organ failure and was given a 1% chance of survival. To save her life, she was given a medication that took all the blood from her extremities and put it into her vital organs. Although it saved her life, it caused sepsis. She had to have multiple amputations and suffered a stroke. Chandra is an IT engineer and 508 compliance officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency. She has been working in intelligence for over a decade.

Entering the Pageant

We have had 3 other phenomenal Ms. Wheelchair America pageant winners from the state of Maryland, and Ms. Smith has finally brought the title back to our state. She is the second woman of color to hold the title of Ms. Wheelchair America in the 52-year history of the organization.

Chandra heard about the Ms. Wheelchair Maryland organization from her Occupational Therapist when she was still in rehab. Inspired by the sisterhood of women with disabilities around her, she decided to run.

Chandra Smith wearing a tiara and sash at a table that says, "Ms. Wheelchair America."

The Importance of Advocacy

With Chandra having a background in Information Technology, her platform was Digital accessibility. 96% of websites are not accessible to people with disabilities. She believes in accessibility and provides the example that if a disaster relief website is not accessible, and someone needs information about disaster preparation but cannot access it, that can be the difference between life and death.

Since Chandra has been traveling to different places, she has felt the sting of physical inaccessibility at times. Unfortunately having a disability is not an easy thing, and even with the laws on our side, we still do not have true accessibility. One of Chandra’s passions is getting a Universal design bill passed in all 50 states: “It benefits everyone when you design for the few. It benefits the many when you have a society that values everyone regardless of abilities.” She goes on to say, “This experience underscores the importance of our fight for accessibility and inclusion. It’s not just about compliance, it’s about dignity, independence, and equal opportunity.”

To her, “being an advocate is like construction. You have to keep building. It’s not a spectator sport. we need able-body allies with us to fight the good fight. We are fighting for a world that benefits everyone, a world that our children deserve.”

Looking Toward the Future

Chandra’s Life is thriving by living her purpose. She wants to show people that if you have survived the pandemic or whatever was supposed to break you, it is because you have purpose and you have to tap into that purpose.   

Starting next year, she will serve on the Maryland Commission on Disabilities for a term of 3 years.  She will be traveling to events and advocating for the over 60 million people living with disabilities in the United States. To keep up with Chandra’s journey, you can follow her on Facebook at Ms. Wheelchair America 2024 and on Instagram at Chandra Chronicles.

Here is a snippet of a poem she wrote entitled You Matter:

You matter when the sun shines bright,
You matter in the darkest night.
Through every triumph, every fall,
You matter above it all.