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Ms. Wheelchair Arizona 2022, A Storyteller Encouraging Positive Change in Others

Brooke Brown wearing a black baseball cap, black tank top, and black and white pants, in her power wheelchair smiling for the camera.

Upon first meeting Ms. Brooke Brown, it would appear that she has multiple barriers to connecting with others. Having received many text messages from her that were clear and articulate, I was surprised to learn that she has significant dysarthria, or difficulty with speech articulation. Brooke explained that she uses an app to communicate in writing, independently typing all information on her computer keyboard. This knowledge of her ability to adapt is just the beginning of discovering her incredible journey to success.

Brooke was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at nine months of age. This has resulted in overall spasticity and pain, limiting her mobility and requiring a need for medication to decrease the effects on her body movements. Her ability to use her right arm and hand is much improved, along with her ability to produce understandable verbal communication. 

While attending public schools in elementary and middle school, Brooke experienced both highs and lows. Assistive technology was not provided for her in the early years, but she was encouraged to try using a speech device in middle school. Although she was proficient with using the clunky, awkward device, social interactions were limited. Fellow students showed more interest in the novelty of the machine than in engaging with Brooke in a meaningful way. This experience caused her to abandon the exploration of alternative communication until college. Mainstreaming with her same-age peers did provide some good sources of social interaction, though allowed for some bullying. By the time her high school years arrived, her parents facilitated a transfer to a private Christian school. In this environment, Brooke describes experiencing improved acceptance from others.

Although speech therapy services were limited during her educational years, Brooke did discover and develop a love of story writing, which she credits to her fourth-grade teacher. In college, her world began to expand, receiving ongoing speech therapy until graduation and help exploring needed adaptations for academic success. While working on a degree in journalism, she learned to use AAC, or augmentative and alternative communication, effectively. This includes using specific systems, devices, strategies, and tools to support or replace spoken communication. Brooke has an impairment in her ability to isolate muscle movements, resulting in difficulty with individual movement of her fingers. However, she has never used a switch system or head control to access devices, learning to use her left index finger instead. With this one-finger typing method, she has unlocked her potential for social and written communication by using accessibility features and a dedicated app.

Brooke Brown wearing a light purple t-shirt that says DISABLED as an acronym with the words Devoted Intelligent Successful Ambitious Beautiful Loving Educated Determined.

Brooke considers herself blessed in many ways, including having wonderful parents and a special gift for creative writing. One of the best gifts that she believes helped with her confidence was attending the private school. Being prepared for college, she launched into a new journey toward her unique, meaningful purpose, which she states is “to initiate positive change by creating storytelling experiences.” Brooke considers sharing her faith as her primary motivation. Since graduating from the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University in 2006 and receiving the prestigious Walter Cronkite Outstanding Undergraduate Award, she has developed many impactful programs and services that have influenced others in all walks of life. With her degree in journalism and mass communication, her emphasis remains on creating experiences to provide hope and healing from hardships, removing stigmas and misconceptions of those with disabilities.

Rebuilding Arizona’s Ms. Wheelchair Competition

Perseverance is a quality that Brooke has ingrained in her character, evidenced by her willingness to compete in the Ms. Wheelchair America competition in her state, not once, but three times before acquiring the title. Ms. Wheelchair America is a competitive program celebrating the achievements of women with disabilities, and according to the organization’s website, “the competition is based on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities.” 

Brooke Brown in her power wheelchair wearing a floral pant suit and ivory cardigan. She smiles for the camera on a stage.

Brooke’s first attempt at running in Arizona resulted in a tie based on points but brought her a rejection after she demonstrated her speech deficit answering a tiebreaker question. The head judge told her they were concerned that her speech would hinder her from doing well at nationals, explaining why her partner was chosen. Brooke recognized that although accommodations are in place, the judges can allow for speech difficulties to interfere with the judging criteria. Deficits in speech are present for many wheelchair users, but with today’s technology, clear and articulate communication comes in multiple forms, not only spoken. Eventually, in the 2020 competition, after coming in 5th of 6 contestants, she believed that she was again dismissed related to her communication skills. In 2020, the overall competition was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The title holder, who Brooke feels saw potential in her, approached her after the pandemic to consider taking the title and changing the image of the program. When the Arizona program resumed in 2022 without holding a formal competition, Brooke was chosen based on her previous involvement and brought on to rebuild the program. She committed fully to representing the Ms. Wheelchair Arizona title and proceeded to make a significant impact. Completing her tenure, she passed the title to the new Ms. Wheelchair Arizona in January 2023.

A waist-up shot of Brooke Brown smiling wearing a crown, purple robe, and a Ms. Wheelchair Arizona sash, with a red carpet in the background.

A true win for Brooke came when she competed at the national level in the Ms. Wheelchair America competition, where she was one of three contestants who used an AAC device. At the state level during the interview portion, since Brooke has experienced what it feels like to be misunderstood, she chose to demonstrate the various ways she communicates, including using her own voice. At the national competition, she requested an available accommodation to have questions given to her ahead of time. This enabled her to provide her best answers on her device. She finished the Ms. Wheelchair America competition as third runner-up.

Always Assume Competence

Brooke brings profound meaning to the idea that people with disabilities can thrive well beyond the expectations of others. Her list of accomplishments is extensive, focusing on her faith and including active involvement in the disability community through her ministry, Brooke’s Butterfly Touch. Her goal is to encourage individuals to give their experiences a voice that provides a positive effect on others. Her workshops include Transforming the Heart of Your Story and Sharing Your Recovery Story. Her unique Always Assume Competence sessions demonstrate how to respectfully include, engage, and communicate with those who have disabilities. 

Brooke Brown behind a table filled with pamphlets. The tablecloth reads "Brooke's Butterfly Touch: Creative Storytelling Services Discover the Power in YOUR Story."

Rolling In Grace

An author of three books, Brooke is also a speaker and contributor for John Trent’s Strong Families, a Christian ministry with a mission to help end loneliness and build strong families. Brooke makes her services available to many organizations, including businesses. She travels readily and has presented to large groups, such as the Lumen Tech Company in Colorado. During her reign as Ms. Wheelchair Arizona, she spoke at multiple churches, universities, conferences, and an elementary school. Her Rolling in Grace podcast reaches many people with disabilities who struggle to be seen and heard. 

Brooke Brown in her power wheelchair in front of a crowd of people sitting in a conference room.

All of Brooke’s achievements may not have taken place without the turning point that came in her college years at ASU. While meeting a professor’s expectations of creating a story and a website, she began forming her journey toward making a significant impact in the lives of others, those with and without disabilities. When selected to represent her class and give the speech at her graduation from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Brooke experienced a sense of belonging and importance that continues to propel her into her mission of encouraging others. Her future promises to become one filled with love and engagement with others, and hope for all those that are blessed to meet her.


Wheels2Wings – Brooke’s author website

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