Ms. Wheelchair New York, Danielle Sheypuk has challenged stereotypes by proving that being disabled does not mean an absent social life.
A clinical psychologist Sheypuk, who has been afflicted with spinal muscular atrophy since birth, is in Ohio this week where she is competing to become Ms. Wheelchair USA, using her tiara and her platform, to change stereotypes.
Advertisement"Not everyone is frumpy. We can have good haircuts, wear high heels and are sexy," the New York Daily News quoted her as saying.
"People in wheelchairs are not portrayed as glamorous. Everyone assumes you're asexual, or you're weak and dependent or unmasculine or unfeminine or undatable or not interested in dating.
"We want to be in a relationship the same way anyone else wants to be," she said.
The 34-year-old beauty pageant winner works at the Bensonhurst Outpatient Clinic of South Beach Psychiatric Center in Brooklyn, where she specializes in dating and relationships for the disabled.
Originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania she moved to New York City in 2000 and earned her Ph.D. from the New School.
Sheypuk hits the town like any other single lady, heading out to upscale lounges and clubs like the Boom Boom Room atop the Standard Hotel and PH-D at the Dream Downtown hotel.
"We like to get dressed up and go somewhere classy," she said.
It's not always easy, she admitted.
At one club, she said she and her friends were told there wasn't enough room for a wheelchair. A quick chat with the club's manager rectified that - and they were inside.
"We find it challenging to see if we can go and we might not have gotten in if I wasn't in a wheelchair. Since they don't expect to see someone in a wheelchair, [most places] say, 'Sure, come up.' It's good to be out there to show people," she said.
She wants to use her own experiences - and her expertise as a psychologist - to break down stereotypes and stigmas about dating among the disabled.
"It's difficult, especially in adolescence, because it's assumed they're not going to be dating or have sex or get married, so why talk to them. It's a tough stage," she said.
After the pageant, she is going to increase her advocacy "10-fold" to make New York City wheelchair-friendly - from curb cuts to chair-friendly taxis.
When it comes to dating, she lives by the advice that she gives to her patients.
"Get out there and date and keep dating. That's how these negative stereotypes will start to break down," she added.
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