Since being crowned 2022 Ms. Wheelchair Oregon America, Melinda Preciado has fully embraced her voice as an advocate for the community, discovering a new path to help others. And she is just getting started.
As a healthcare professional of 17 years, Melinda always found fulfillment through caring for others. Now she is doing so on an even larger scale. With everything she’s accomplished since her amputation, it’s difficult to imagine that Melinda’s journey as a wheelchair user and above-knee amputee began only just over two years ago.
At the start of 2021, Melinda’s life took an unexpected turn when a sudden, traumatic event left her fighting for her life. She miraculously pulled through the harrowing ordeal, but her right leg could not be saved. It was this new reality that ultimately opened Melinda’s eyes to accessibility issues and led her to adopt the platform “Adapting America for All.” Advocating for people living with both visible and invisible disabilities, including her son with autism, Melinda’s awareness efforts are helping to lay the groundwork for much-needed improvements that often go unnoticed in an able-bodied world.
In speaking to senators or mayors, Melinda’s goal is to emphasize the importance of modifying public spaces with accessibility in mind, but sometimes her point is best made in real time. “I’ve noticed that unless someone has a loved one or some kind of experience themselves they don’t totally get it until you actually show them,” Melinda recalled. “During a meeting with a county commissioner, I needed to use the restroom and his wife had to help me because I could not get my wheelchair into the bathroom. Even when I got inside there were no bars on the stall walls, so right then I just proved my point.”
While some major modifications take time and money to implement, even changes such as push buttons on doors are beneficial and would eliminate real challenges the community encounters. Melinda recalls the barrier of heavy doors and having to ask someone nearby for help. Highlighting her experiences in a travel blog and even appearing in a local TV commercial for Lane Transit District, Melinda is lifting the veil and exposing what it’s really like for people with physical disabilities to navigate public spaces—often with great difficulty. “I’ve had a lot of people say I’ve opened their eyes and they realized how things truly aren’t accessible or safe in many ways, even downright impossible to navigate some places,” Melinda shared.
Although she knows she doesn’t need a title to be an advocate, becoming Ms. Wheelchair Oregon has heightened Melinda’s visibility and opened doors for opportunity. It has even led her to wear a new crown as the first Ms. Wheelchair Oregon USA (2023) in the history of the pageant. Ms. Wheelchair USA recognizes that all women, despite disability, can be glamorous and can exhibit self-confidence in personal, professional, and public life. At the end of July, Melinda will travel to northeast Ohio for the national competition.
Representation is important, and Melinda has seen firsthand the impact her presence has made on others with a similar disability. She talked about participating in a parade and seeing a young girl in a wheelchair who looked excited to see her. Without thinking, Melinda stopped the procession to take a picture with her. “It was so touching just getting that thank you from her mom later on about how much it meant to her daughter and how happy she was to see someone ‘just like her’ in the parade,” Melinda said. “I posted on Facebook and said, ‘This is why I do what I do; it’s for those moments.”
Drawing from her own experiences, Melinda also extends an empathetic ear to others as a Certified Peer Visitor, serving as a source of support for amputees who are processing their own life change. Healing looks different for everyone, and Melinda opened up about how she found closure with a symbolic ceremony. “I had written a letter to my leg that I lost, and I wanted to do something to release that on the one-year anniversary,” Melinda said.
She asked her prosthetist to make a cast of her remaining leg, wrote pieces of the letter on it, and painted pink toenails like she had before the amputation. With friends and family surrounding her, Melinda read the letter as the cast was placed in a bonfire pit. Having closure herself has helped Melinda to move forward and embrace her new life with hope and enthusiasm.
Although it has not always been easy, Melinda has not allowed her wheelchair to limit the impact she is making beyond hospital doors. “My advocacy work definitely has replaced and given me the fulfillment of helping people that I had in my profession,” Melinda shared. “Now I can make a difference in so many other ways besides just hands-on care in the ER. I think advocating for others is just as important as saving lives.” One small action at a time, that’s just what she’s doing—empowering people of all abilities to live more dignified, independent lives.
If you or someone you know would like to apply, learn more about Ms. Wheelchair USA.