On June 25, 2019 the annual Miss Florida pageant will be held and 35 contestants will compete for the crown, yet only one of those contestants will be making history.
Rachel Barcellona, a current junior at the University of South Florida, will be the first contestant with autism to compete in the Miss Florida pageant. Barcellona hopes to inspire others through her platform, and told WFTS , “I want people to know that autism does not hold me back, it’s actually an opportunity for me to achieve my dreams.”
According to her story on the Dyspraxia Foundation USA website, Barcellona has been diagnosed with Aspergers, along with dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and epilepsy. She has noted the various challenges she has faced growing up and the beneficial role of physical, speech and language, and occupational therapy she has received over the years.
Barcellona began participating in the beauty pageant world at the age of 5 and competed until fourth grade, after which she took a break. She explained to the WFLA, “I had depression and anxiety in middle school so then I resumed when I was 13 and that’s when I really got into it because it helped me make friends and build my confidence.”
She is now gearing up to compete at the end of the month and show that autism does not hold her back, but her advocacy does not stop there. She is an active advocate for her platform “Ability Beyond Disability” and for spreading awareness about autism. With SafeMinds, Barcellona will be visiting the White House to push for proposed amendments to the Autism CARES Act.
In anticipation of what she will be asked by the judges in the Miss Florida pageant, Barcellona also told WFLA, “ Usually they bring up my disability. So I would say it doesn’t affect me negatively and that I am very capable of inspiring people and holding a title.” Referring to pageants as also being a “spectrum”, she gives the advice “you have to find the right one for you, and just go from there.”
Barcellona will continue to be a voice for the autism community, through her platform and advocacy, and inspire others to not be held back by their diagnoses and challenges. She has fought in the face of her own challenges and hopes to be crowned Miss Florida later this month.