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Press Release for Wednesday, March 25, 2015

University of North Florida Student Crowned Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2015

Media Contact: Joanna Norris, Director
Department of Public Relations
(904) 620-2102

Sara Gaver, a University of North Florida junior majoring in health administration, was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2015 by Ms. Wheelchair Florida Inc., an organization that provides an opportunity of achievement for women who happen to be wheelchair users to educate and advocate for the more than 54 million Americans living with disabilities.

Gaver, a resident of Osteen, Fla., received her crown March 21 at the University of South Florida in Tampa during an empowerment conference. The competition is based on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation. The selected representative must be able to communicate both the needs and the accomplishments of her constituency to the general public, the business community and the legislature.

During her year-long reign, Gaver, also a UNF Honors student, will make at least two public appearances per month in Florida, including conferences within the disability community, meetings with state and local officials, parades, fairs and school events. As Ms. Wheelchair Florida, she will also participate in the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant in Des Moines, Iowa, in late July.

“I’m excited about serving in this role. The goal during my reign is to empower those in and out of the disability community to get involved and create positive change,” said Gaver, who was one of the 2014 TEDxJacksonville speakers.

She was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, a rare congenital disorder that causes muscle weakness, joint contractures and fibrosis. It’s a condition that requires her to use a wheelchair to get around campus and necessitates 24-hour medical assistance because she doesn’t have much use of her arms or legs. That hasn’t stopped her from becoming a busy member of the UNF community. She is a member of three honor societies, a sorority, the Rotaract Service club and the vice president of internal programming for the Presidential Envoys Student Alumni Association.

The bubbly 21 year old lives on campus, attends class and hits the books with the help of a living assistant and the dedicated staff of the Disability Resource Center. Her experiences have been so positive that she’s started working as a community outreach assistant with the DRC to help spread the word to other disabled students looking for an inclusive college environment, which led her to dream up Project Closer for One Spark. The idea behind it is to design a campus framework for students with disabilities to live independently and go to school at any college they chose. Her vision is to create a nonprofit organization based around the Project Closer framework that would be easily transferred to other institutions.

“We’d renovate one floor of a residence hall to be entirely ADA- [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant and handicap-accessible for students,” Gaver said. “And instead of having to worry about insurance or federal funding, Project Closer would allow the University’s nursing students to get internship or practical experience by handling the medical assistance for the students who need some help.”

Gaver modeled her idea after the University of Illinois’ system for disability assistance and after some of her own experiences. She wants to show others that independent living is a possibility with the right support in place. “If a person has a dream or goal of going to school there are resources and options,” she said. “If I didn't have the support I have, I wouldn’t be in school, and I want students with disabilities to know they can go to school and continue on with their education.”

UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.