Woman makes history being the first Miss Florida contestant with autism – “We need acceptance”
For the first time in the history of the Miss Florida pageant, a woman with autism will compete.
Rachel Barcellona, from Tampa Bay, said doctors told her she’d never graduate from high school because of her diagnosis. She says the negative feedback didn’t sit well with her.
“I was basically promised that I would never graduate any school really or have any friends. Pretty much everything bad was going to happen to me because I have autism. [My mom] was like ‘I will be dead before that happens.'”
Barcellona began participating in pageants at age 5. She continued through much of elementary school and then quit. But she says the depression and anxiety she suffered in middle school led her back to the pageant world, where she gained confidence and made friends.
Soon enough, Barcellona was winning pageants. She won the title of Miss Florida International in 2016 and the title of Miss Southeast International in 2017, according to Suncoast News. She is Miss Manatee River 2019.
Now, at 22, she is the first person with autism to compete in the Miss Florida pageant, according to WFLA.
A prominent advocate for inclusion, Barcellona had made more than 300 public appearances to promote the cause by 2017. She has walked New York Fashion Week and traveled to England and Canada as an autism advocate.
Barcellona has also served as a board member for the University of South Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, as an international ambassador for the Unicorn Children’s Foundation and as an ambassador for inclusivity non-profit Help Us Gather. She currently works with children at the Glazer Children’s Museum.
A keen opera singer, Barcellona has performed at Madison Square Gardens three times. She recently performed the National Anthem at a Tampa Bay Lightning game at Amalie Arena. She will lend her vocal skills to the talent part of the Miss Florida Competition Preliminary on June 25, 2019 in Lakeland.
She says when judges ask about her disability she tells them she can inspire people.
Source CBS Miami