By Amy Pollard
In a sparkling crown, emerald green sash and black-and-white sheath dress, Kyann Flint sits back in her power wheelchair and smiles for the camera – the photo marks the start of her reign as Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2017.
Flint, a 24-year-old Custer resident, won the Ms. Wheelchair Washington pageant on March 11. The annual event recognizes outstanding advocates for people with disabilities.
A video of the one-day event shows Flint speaking to room full of judges, contestants and audience members at the Sea-Tac Holiday Inn Express. Her voice shakes ever so slightly but her words are carefully measured as she discusses providing equal opportunity and fighting ableism. The room fills with applause when she finishes.
If you’d told Flint a few years ago that she would be advocating statewide for people with disabilities while wearing a crown, she likely wouldn’t have believed you. Flint, who was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder at 8 years old, had no plans to become an advocate.
“Both my parents made it possible for me to try to do as many things as I could,” she said. “For the longest time I never really thought of myself as different.”
It wasn’t until she attended Western Washington University from 2011 to 2015 that Flint said she faced challenges that compelled her to speak up.
“It was difficult to get the accommodations I needed,” she said. “So I became an advocate. Going to Western is how I found my voice.”
She’s been raising her voice ever since. When she heard about Ms. Wheelchair Washington, she saw an opportunity to expand her advocacy work. She placed first-runner-up last year.
Now, as state titleholder, she takes her message to schools, businesses and nonprofits throughout the state. Most recently, she appeared in her crown and sash at the Sisu Children’s Fund in Bellingham and Best of the West Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Seattle. She will compete nationally in the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant in Erie, Pennsylvania August 14–20.
Flint has been called inspirational, but she wouldn’t describe herself that way. “I’m just a person,” she said. “I have my likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses. Having a disability is just one part of who I am.”
Case in point: She’s a foodie. She’s a Gilmore Girls fan. She’s an outdoor enthusiast, hiking Whatcom County’s trails. She’s a world traveler, having collected stamps in her passport from seven countries. Perhaps a line from her blog Life from a Lame Perspective describes her best: she refuses to “live down to society’s expectations.”
“It’s hard to sum her up because she is so amazing,” said Kristine Lautenbach, special education teacher at Bellingham High School. Flint volunteered in Lautenbach’s math class last year. “Kyann is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, person I know.”
“She’s very committed to making a difference,” said Meg Paulsen, who won Ms. Wheelchair Washington in 2008 and coordinated the program from 2010 to 2015. “She’s not going to give up. She’s quite a force to be reckoned with.”
To track Flint’s progress at the national pageant, visit facebook.com/MWWA2017/.