By Mary Boone
Improving transportation for the disabled and increasing both the quality and availability of attendant care are important issues for Julie Phillips ’90 in her role as Ms. Wheelchair Washington.
"I’m really excited about being in a position to help educate the public about the obstacles the disabled face, plus I want to help people see the positive aspects of our lives," says Phillips, an accountant for the Tacoma law firm of Mann, Johnson, Wooster & McLaughlin.
Phillips was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Washington at the state pageant in Puyallup last April. In early August, she represented Washington in the 29th annual Ms. Wheelchair America pageant in Denver.
"That was a great experience because I got to share with the other contestants," says Phillips. "The opportunity to get and give information was really insightful. I came back from that experience fired up to make a difference."
Phillips uses a wheelchair due to dermatomyositis, a disease characterized by muscle weakness and calcium deposits throughout the body that damage tissue, weaken bones and restrict range of motion. The cause of the disease is unknown, as is its cure.
"By the time I was in fifth grade, I was in a wheelchair all the time, and by the time I was in eighth grade my arms were weak enough that I had to go into an electric wheelchair," says Phillips, who prides herself on her ambition and productivity.
"I try to be a good example and show others what they can accomplish, not what they cannot," she says. "I have a great job. I own my own home, and I maintain a fair life for myself."
Phillips hopes that the awareness and attention given to minority and gay populations in recent years will soon spread to the disabled community.
"I feel like it’s our turn," says Phillips. "It’s time people looked at us as equals. We don’t need sympathy, but I think all people deserve compassion."
Transportation and accessibility are Phillips’ pet causes because, she says, without them disabled citizens can’t be functional members of society.
"Hopping in the car isn’t an option for many of us," she says. "We want to have jobs, but we can’t if we don’t have reliable transportation or if we can’t get in the building once we get there. That’s the kind of awareness I want to raise."