NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- In this week's 50 People To Know, we introduce you to Ms. Wheelchair New York 2017, Dayniah Manderson.
It's a special honor for an inspirational woman.
The first thing most people notice is the motorized wheelchair, but quickly Manderson's smile is what attracts attention. It's warm, inviting, ever present and indicative of her positive attitude in spite of a horrible circumstance.
"I have muscular dystrophy. I always tell people I'm one of Jerry's kids, and that's SMA type two. And muscular dystrophy is just a disease where your muscles weaken over time," she tells WCBS 880's Sean Adams.
Manderson, a 37-year-old mother and teacher from the Bronx, had never heard of Ms. Wheelchair New York.
"A friend of mine who was a former Ms. Wheelchair New York nominated me for the pageant. So when I was called by them, I was like I don't know what this is, I'm really not a pageant person. I'm just a teacher, my bread and butter is to just go into a classroom and teach every day," she says.
"It was good because I don't think that I had thought of myself as an advocate until this pageant. I didn't understand that there were so many other things that I could be doing," she says.
The title, Ms. Wheelchair New York, comes with great responsibility.
"It's a sisterhood where we do advocacy work. The job is to get people to be aware of some of the struggles that people with disabilities have to go through, and to also highlight a lot of the positive things that people with disabilities are doing in the community," she says.
Manderson's wheelchair has become a podium from which she lobbies lawmakers and fights for reforms that can help people with disabilities. One of her causes?
"Personal care attendants and the lack of a wage increase," she says. "It's very hard to recruit, to train, to basically keep personal care attendants, because the wages are so low. And these are people who are devoting their lives to basically being your hands and your feet."
Muscular dystrophy has robbed Manderson of her strength and mobility, but not the power of her mind. She attended New York University, earned a Masters degree, and now teaches eighth grade English at Mott Hall Community School in Throggs Neck. She uses humor to make a connection with her students.
It seems before she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair New York, she was already an ambassador for the disabled.
"I think most of the lessons that stick with my students is empathy. And I think that's a very important lesson for them, because it's what's going to make them treat other people better -- whether it's someone with a disability or just someone who's down and out on their luck," she says. "Just that empathy factor, that's what makes people move. When you can feel what another person's going through, you will take action, because it's almost as if you're an extension of that person."
"They definitely become more compassionate people. They're nicer at the end of the year, they grow into these little adults who go out there, and a lot of them are doing really, really positive things," she says.
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