Thursday, March 25, 2010

Miss Deaf Utah eager to show disabilities need not be disabling

Miss Deaf Utah eager to show disabilities need not be disabling

Like many pageant contestants, Andrea Vigil has spent countless hours developing her talent, trying to find the perfect song to accompany her hip-hop routine.

But unlike other beauty queens, Vigil cannot hear the music she will dance to.

Vigil is Miss Deaf Utah, serving as a role model and spokeswoman for the deaf community in Utah. Now Vigil is preparing for the Miss Deaf America pageant this summer.

The 22-year-old from Taylorsville had to overcome more than hearing loss to accomplish her goal. Born prematurely and weighing just over two pounds, Vigil had to endure years of braces on her arms and legs to correct defects. A tumor behind her left eye as a toddler left her blind on that side.

Despite her physical challenges, Vigil has always kept a hopeful attitude and, after studying at the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind, graduated from Skyline High School. She now works for Sorenson Communications, teaching hard-of-hearing customers to use video-relay services.

Vigil also works to educate the public on deaf issues, and being Miss Deaf Utah has given her a larger platform. Leadership opportunities are the focus of the pageant, said state director Andrea Anderson. Vigil made an appearance at the Utah Legislature this year, hoping to get more youth involved in the community, particularly with the National Association of the Deaf task force.

Serving as Miss Deaf Utah makes Vigil an example for young women in the deaf community.

"Her past of disabilities didn't stop her from continuing to make achievements," said Eleanor McCowan, program manager at the Sanderson Community Center for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing.

That example is important to young girls, McCowan said, who sometimes believe they cannot participate in regular activities, such as student government or cheerleading, with their hearing peers. Although those activities can present some barriers, accommodations can often be made to allow hearing impaired students to participate.

For Vigil, that activity has been dance. Most deaf people do not enjoy dancing, Vigil said, but she finds it a wonderful way to bridge deaf and hearing cultures. She blends sign language into her routines, and tries to use that to share a positive message. She generally eschews lyrics in her song selections, allowing her control of the message.

Vigil has until July to make her song selection. Then she will perform her dance at the Miss Deaf America pageant in Philadelphia.

With her family in attendance, Vigil believes it will be a perfect high point to her term of service before she returns to school, hopefully at Salt Lake Community College. She wants to study communication technology and continue helping deaf children communicate with the hearing world.