CAROL STREAM – Carol Stream resident Danielle Austin chose to participate in the Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2013 competition in March for the personal learning experience and the larger opportunity to advocate for those with disabilities.
“The last thing I thought about was winning,” said Austin, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 1-year-old.
Austin will speak at the Canine Companions’ DogFest Walk ‘n Roll, on Saturday at the Naperville Riverwalk.
“I want to share with others that they can be very successful in life and become active members in society,” said Austin, now 26. “They should believe in themselves and follow their dreams that anything is possible.”
Austin, a Glenbard North High School graduate, was told that college was not an option then. But she proved the nay-sayers wrong.
“My biggest accomplishment was graduating college,” she said.
Austin attended Southern Illinois University where she received a bachelor of science in liberal arts, a second degree in rehabilitation services and a minor in speech communication.
“Her disability has never got in her way,” said lifelong friend Venessa Schweikhofer. “When she sets her mind to something, she is going to do it.”
Austin believes that she helps both the disabled and able-bodied communities by speaking about disability awareness.
“When I speak to groups that are disabled, I relate to them,” she said. “They see my success and feel they can have the same success.”
The month after being crowned, Austin spoke during the College Summit for People with Disabilities and was grand marshal of Carol Stream’s 4th of July Parade.
Recently, she participated in the third annual Mobility Expo and Conference at the Odeum Sports and Expo Center in Villa Park, where she had the opportunity to network and discuss opportunities to be involved in future events promoting disability awareness.
When she’s not busy with her duties as Ms. Wheelchair Illinois, Austin is a substitute teacher at area schools.
One day, she hopes to have a job that allows her to become an advocate for others with disabilities across the United States.
“I will continue to speak up for people with disabilities and attend events where I can help others,” she said.