Lauren Taylor Dreams of Making the World Accessible For All
As Lauren Taylor gets ready for class at University of North Texas, she is surrounded by some of her favorite things: her shiny 2019 Miss Wheelchair Texas crown, her Harry Potter memorabilia collection and her City of Plano Certificate of Congratulations signed by Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, who called her “an inspiration to all of us.”
These words are no exaggeration. Lauren is currently studying for a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and working at Rehabilitation, Education and Advocacy for Citizens with Handicaps, Inc. (REACH) of Denton to help high schoolers with disabilities transition into the adult world. She also petitions for universal design everywhere she goes, and she does it all from a wheelchair.
“I have made my entire life about advocacy for people with disabilities, so winning Miss Wheelchair Texas in March was really important to me,” explained Lauren. “I have wanted this for so long, and I actually did it. Once I got crowned, I got this drive in my head – I’m going to make the most out of this year and this title.”
Like a true Ravenclaw, Lauren is always studying. Her dad loves to tell people that if he didn’t tuck her into bed in high school, she would stay up all night with her books. Her hard work has led to grad school, which she plans to finish in 2021 to become a licensed professional counselor to help others with physical disabilities.
In Lauren’s young life – she’s just 22 years old – she has already brought many positive changes to her community. She was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of one, and at three, she got her first power wheelchair. She maneuvered it with ease and was part of a study that helped convince state and federal programs to fund power chairs for young children. Later, her elementary school in Lewisville installed a fully accessible playground because of her.
When Lauren was six, she went to a Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camp and met Dawn Cruzan, now the co-founder of Camp Craig Allen, and Amanda Hall, who ended up winning 2009 Miss Wheelchair Texas. These women became her mentors; Lauren dreamed of the day she could make a difference and run for the title as well.
Unlike beauty pageants, Miss Wheelchair Texas is an advocacy title. It focuses more on the contestants’ platforms and poise than appearance. After a Skype interview with judges, Lauren made it into the top three finalists. The final competition was held in San Marcos. She met past winners and board members and shared the cause she is most passionate about: universal design.
“Universal design is not about making things separately accessible; it’s about making things usable by both people with and without disabilities simultaneously,” said Lauren. “For example, whether you are on wheels or feet, everyone can use a ramp, but not stairs. Right now, people are not designing buildings with disabilities in mind. It’s all about what’s aesthetically pleasing or what they can cram into a small space.”
After being crowned, Lauren raised awareness for her cause at various places, including United Access – a company that makes wheelchair-accessible vehicles – and the Special Olympics. Always by her side at every appearance or event is Buchanan, the service dog Lauren received three years ago from Canine Companions for Independence. “Not only is he my very best friend that licks away my tears and wags away my worries, but he helps me do the things I physically cannot do,” said Lauren. “He picks up things I drop, he opens and closes doors, flips light switches, helps with laundry – the list is endless!”
Other causes Lauren is involved in include To Be Like Me, a program that plans to give kids hands-on experience about living with disabilities; and Camp Craig Allen, a nonprofit organization with a goal of building a universally designed, barrier-free facility with activities for people of all ages with disabilities. Lauren will be onsite, helping and singing the national anthem at Camp Craig Allen’s annual Amateur BBQ Cookoff and Music Fest at Toyota Stadium in Frisco Oct. 11-12.
Lauren is currently looking for more speaking opportunities and hopes to meet with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who also uses a wheelchair, to tell him about her universal design plans.
When she is not busy, Lauren loves to relax in her Hogwarts-themed apartment, complete with Quidditch rings, a hand-painted Platform 9 ¾ canvas and more Potter-themed décor from her high school graduation party. She also enjoys painting, drawing, reading and watching movies with her boyfriend. Occasionally, Lauren will still play power hockey, a game she fell in love with in second grade when she played with the North Texas Wheelchair Hockey League that used to meet in Plano. And, of course, she is still studying hard every day.
“Never be afraid to be 100 percent yourself,” said Lauren. “If you need something, ask for it. If you feel like something’s not right, speak up about it. That’s something I had to learn growing up in a wheelchair. Don’t let anyone tell you what you do or do not need to succeed.”Miss Wheelchair Texas 2019 >