Annie Heathcote is Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin

Joe Block

Annie Heathcote, Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin

“Who I am, I’m more than my disability,“ Annie Heathcote told the Star News recently. 

“I also acknowledge and appreciate that part of myself--if I didn’t have a disability, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. It’s mainly a part of who I am,” she continued.

“And I’m not going to shy away from that I’m proud to be a disabled person. And I’m proud about the things it’s made me into. And I’m proud for the opportunities. It’s allowed me to help people. And it’s not just disabled people I find, just talking to people involved people, like they gain new perspective, and they come away with something too.”

She will have even more opportunities having been crowned Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin just recently. Heathcote, 23, competed for 2023 title this fall. The competition included judging sessions, workshops, and para-dance performances. She has plans to compete for Ms. Wheelchair America next year.

Ms. Wheelchair America was created “as a forum for the promotion of the needs and achievements of women with mobility impairments. [It] recognizes the accomplishments of women who use wheelchairs for mobility.” It’s a national organization with 30 member states as well as the District of Colombia. Every year state titleholders can compete at the national competition.


“Caring is caregiving”


Heathcote’s platform is “Caring is caregiving.”

“I think a lot of people assume that only nurses are CNAs and do caregiving,” she said. But Heathcote emphasizes that anyone can be a caregiver. “I have to rely on people to get me out of bed every day or me to bed at night. And that’s something I think sometimes people take for granted and don’t even think about, and it’s honestly a physical privilege that many people don’t think about privileges that way.” For Heathcote, to access those privileges she needs a caregiver.

“The everyday citizen, who, you know, can do the sorts of things [we all do] because these routines are all common to everyone’s daily life already,” says Heathcote. Heathcote wants everyone to think of doing something helpful that simple everyday knowledge everyone has of daily tasks. Volunteer, perhaps, of seek out situations where you can help.

Heathcote described her own life:


“I think that’s why it takes a village, each person, we all help each other and do our part. And it’s a lighter load on everybody. I have my certain routines that I do every day. And then within those routines, I have all my little preferences. People don’t think about, like, how would you tell someone to brush your teeth? Like, would you say like, okay, brush my teeth? It’s like, I have to think about every little step. Do you like side-to-side circles? Where do you start? How much pressure? All those little details? I have to think about and articulate to somebody else. And not only do I have to know, myself and my body, I have to let others know that in a respectful and nice way.”


Heathcote seeks to achieve a delicate balance where she cares for her caregivers.

Her platform speaks directly to that, seeking to inform people about the job of caregiving itself—wherever it may be: in a hospital, a home, or a relative’s house.

She explains, “Because if I didn’t have someone to get me out of bed, I wouldn’t be able to live my life. And it’s hard sometimes because I think about caregivers and how they get off different shifts. And you know, I never get a shift off. If I want to live every day and experience life to the fullest.”

There’s even more: “So I’ll have eight hours of care in one day, that’s a full-time job for somebody, right. And then I’m working on top of that, with a career that I love. I’m doing activities with friends, family and community. And I like to eat so I try and get a free meal in there.”

And then Heathcote’s spirit comes through: “You know, and that’s my life. And it’s always been busy. And people are like, you’re so busy, you’re so busy, you know, and, like I like to jam, it has to be that way. Like that’s my life.”




Heathcote’s life is based on a deep, personal faith. She grew up in a Christian household. It starts, for her, with a personal decision.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, I go to church, or my parents did, or I have my parents’ faith.’”

“It’s like the Bible says, we have to accept God as our personal Savior. And I personally have accepted Him into my life. And I think it’s given me more of a foundation and grounding in who I am.”

Heathcote was honest and direct about what might be at the forefront of some people’s minds: “Obviously, my life is really hard. But I know, He knows I can handle it. I know it’s for His good plan, and I trust His sovereignty over my life.”

She continued:

“And you know, somebody will ask, like, ‘How did you get out of bed every day? Your life seems so hard.’ And, obviously, there’s some different aspects to it. I know my purpose. I believe God gave me a purpose. And [He’s] made me this way for a reason to help the disabled community and impact lives and as an advocate for disability awareness.”


Caregivers are everywhere


Heathcote described a recent vacation with her family as a perfect example of both her life and how her advocacy works in real-time. While on vacation they went to business where golf carts drove people on paved roadways to see the scenery. Heathcote’s wheelchair wasn’t allowed on the paved path, so she had to sit out the experience.

In her words:


“And so, you know, it’s, I’ve faced this situation so many times where I put on a brave face, and I tell my family go and have a great time. And that teaches me and I choose to look at that as like, sacrificial love. I want them to experience when I can’t, and I want them to have a great time because I love them. And they’re like, ‘Oh, are you sure?’ I say, ‘Yes, you’ll have a great time.’”

“And I went to the restaurant, and I cried my eyes out. Because you have to feel that pain, you have to feel that emotion. I think that’s a motivator. I filled out an evaluation form, and then basically wrote an essay of just basically telling the story.”


Heathcote didn’t simply complain to the owner—she offered suggestions to remedy the situation. She sees no need in yelling at a manager or being rude. “I want to handle that situation with grace, but being fierce at the same time, but respectful,” Heathcote says.

In talking with the manager, the following happened:

“Then [the manager] looks at me and she says, ‘I’m a caregiver, too.’ I said, ‘Wow, that’s really special. Who do you care for?’ And she says, ‘My husband, he has cancer.’ And we’re both crying at that point. And with tears running down her face, we’re just like, you know, you don’t know someone’s situation. You don’t know. Like, what morning they had, you know, someone to give you the cold shoulder and be like, Oh, they’re a terrible person. I always give people the benefit of the doubt, because I’ve had hard mornings. I know what that’s like.”

“And it just made me realize that, you know, you don’t know people situations, and if I were to just do that, or whatever, and like she’s literally dealing with a husband was going through cancer. Like that’s, that’s hard. And I acknowledge that pain that she has and we’re able to talk about caregiving and burnout and all that stuff.


As a result of that conversation—that connection and advocacy—Heathcote’s family’s tickets were refunded—and she got a cup of her favorite, hot chocolate. She summed it up with, “Even though it was a heartbreaking day for me, I learned a lesson and [experienced] sacrificial love. I met someone going through a hard situation and was able to impact her life, I’m able to help one [person]. If I can help one more person not go through that heartbreak that I experienced, I’d say that is worth it. I will put in the time the effort and energy needed in order for that not to happen, because I don’t want to ever forget how I felt that day.”


Annie Designs


Heathcote has her own business, “Annie Designs,” where she does graphic design and web design. She has a full client load, serving 13 clients her first year and even having to turn some away. She graduated from MATC in May of 2021, with two associate degrees. She said the summer after she graduated people began approaching her with potential projects. She eventually built a full list of clients.

Her advocacy comes through into her business, as well. She seeks to make her designs accessible to users with disabilities, and as inclusive as possible. 

“My mission is to learn, grow, and collaborate with the disability community and others, to do my part in making designs inclusive, Heathcote writes on her website. “The road of progress and design is never easy. There are curbs, potholes, and unpaved paths, but I have decided to take the road less traveled because they lead to new ideas and discoveries.”

Annie Designs can be found at:

Heathcote travels for her business in a custom-made van that accommodates her as a driver. Getting the van was a two-and-a-half-year journey for her. 


Her support network


Heathcote spoke often about her support network. From her platform to her everyday conversations, it’s clear she cares about her caregivers and sees just how much care she receives from others—and appreciates it. Conversation quickly turned to her mentors:


“I’ve had many mentors, many people in my inner circle. Many people that I come into contact with every day, and I want to learn and grow from everybody, I come in contact with you trying to take a piece of that with you, because you have that experience of interacting with somebody. I want to say thank you to everybody.”

Heathcote said the support was ever-present growing up.

“For example, my teachers growing up, they were like, ‘No, you’re you’re gonna do something someday. You’re different. You’re special. You’re gonna change the world. And we believe in you.’




Heathcote finds, upon reflection, that she’s always been an advocate for disability.

“I was always picking a disability topic because in school, we’re not taught about disability history. We’re not taught about health for disabled people like in health class, and then people aren’t educated and then what does that do?”

“That makes the unknown scary. And so then they associate disabled people with the unknown and they don’t know how to interact.”

“[We] are not shown in romantic relationships. We’re not. We’re not told our disability history and heritage.”

But Heathcote doesn’t walk away from these experiences simply angry. It lights a fire in her:

“[It] also gives me a purpose, and drives that fight in me, because there’s people that come before me that have fought for what I have today. And I want to do that for the future generation. If I’m on this earth, I’m gonna make a difference. And that’s my drive.”


Annie Heathcote’s Facebook pager for her Ms. Wisconsin Wheelchair American 2023 can be found at:


A copy of Heathcote’s final speech in the competition is printed above.


This is the final speech Annie Heathcote gave for the Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin 2023 competition.


It was that pivotal moment, everyone was holding their breath. I passed the ball to my teammate, she passed it back, and SCORE!!! The game was won, not because of one, but because of teamwork. Teamwork is what makes life function, and teamwork is what makes my life function. There is a kind of teamwork that many people don’t even know about, this is caregiving. According to The Long-Term Care Workforce Crisis 2022 Report, there is an increase in caregiver vacancies at an alarming rate of 27.8% this year alone. Throughout our nation, there is a shortage of caregivers. With wage competition and our culture becoming more individualistic, it leaves the largest minority group, people with disabilities, in a vulnerable state. It’s time to change this! Caregiving can be as simple as knowing someone’s limits and helping meet their needs. These routines are all common to everyone’s daily life already, so why not help someone else with these and get paid? It’s time we step out of our busy lives, into compassion, and stride towards someone in need of care. Caregiving is a rewarding team relationship. My caregivers provide me with physical care, but I provide my caregivers with emotional care. On days when they need a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or the help with their boy drama, I am able to bestow upon them, wisdom, from my porcelain throne. If I were Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin, I would educate the public on caregiving needs and advocate on the benefits of becoming a caregiver, so we can collectively make a difference in this critical need of the #DisabledLife. We all need care, so become part of a “Care Giving” team today.

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