Rowan Grad Student Shares Disability Advocacy in Pageant World

Lea Donaghy shares her academic journey and advocacy for disability awareness as Miss Wheelchair New Jersey. - Photo / Lea Donaghy

If Lea Donaghy had to choose one word to describe her Rowan experience, it would be “eventful.”

Donaghy is a first-year graduate student working towards her Masters in Counseling in Educational Settings and prides herself in being the president of Delta Alpha Pi, an academic honor society founded to recognize high-achieving students with disabilities. She also serves as a graduate assistant for the university’s Tutoring Center.

Like other students, Donaghy initially chose Rowan as an undergrad to stay close to her family and to take full advantage of the accessibility services that this school had to offer. She felt as though the faculty truly cared about their students on an individual level, which is something other schools hadn’t offered. She also stated that she loved all of the opportunities the psychology department had to offer and determined that this was the place for her.

But Donaghy didn’t get through it all alone, and cited John Woodruff, director of accessibility services, and Laura Repsher, assistant director of tutoring services, as sources of inspiration for her. She hopes to learn from them both and continue her advocacy for students as a School Counselor.

When she’s not engrossed in her studies, she is an active member of the Philadelphia Flyers Powerplay, a power wheelchair hockey team based in Philadelphia. Donaghy is advocating for accessibility for all and, most recently, won the title of Miss Wheelchair New Jersey.

Donaghy was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type III, a condition that is caused by a mutation in the survival motor neuron gene one, causing many of those with the disease to lose their ability to walk. However, this condition has never stopped Lea from fulfilling her dreams, and she will even be competing in Miss Wheelchair America in Aug. of 2022.

When asked what inspired her to become interested in pageantry, she stated that she wanted to be able to advocate for people with disabilities, and to share her story with the world. She actively uses her platform to stand up for her beliefs and educate others on disabilities.

“I can assure you that beauty comes from within,” Donaghy said. “The best way to gain confidence is by not only pursuing, but accomplishing what you love to do, and to stand up for your beliefs.”

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