As Ms. Wheelchair South Dakota 2016, Kristi Eisenbraun’s chief goal is to serve as an advocate for people with disabilities, shining a light on obstacles and the simple things that can be done to make life a little easier. Over the next year, she will travel the state, meeting with officials and presenting ideas aimed at helping kids with disabilities transition after high school. And through it all, she will be working to raise month to compete for the title of Ms. Wheelchair America this August.
What encouraged you to become involved in the Ms. Wheelchair SD pageant?
Kristi Eisenbraun: I had done speeches for the state in the past, talking about my experience with cerebral palsy and the challenging transition from high school into the real world. A friend suggested I fill out an application for the pageant that requested volunteer participation information, reasons for advocacy, and my overall view on life. The day of the pageant, I had interviews with three different judges before going on stage and presenting my platform. I was nervous, but I’ve naturally advocated for people with disabilities my whole life.
What is your platform?
KE: I want to educate on the importance of service animals, increasing accessibility to service dogs in South Dakota. I wouldn’t be living independently if it wasn’t for my service dog. I also plan to make public places more accessible for people with disabilities. A lot of businesses follow ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) policies, but I can’t even open the door to get inside. What a major difference it would make for me if they would do something as simple as install a doorbell. Growing up in a town of less than 2,000 people, my parents always had to push for what I needed. It was a constant struggle until I graduated. My high school wanted me to accept my diploma on the ground while everyone else accepted theirs on stage. I felt like I was the only person with a disability, because I was. I want to change that.
How has your service dog changed your life?
KE: I would never feel comfortable being by myself if it wasn’t for Huxley. He is a yellow lab, and I’ve had him for about a year and a half. He picks something up when I drop it, helps me put my laundry into the washer and dryer, and uses a rope to open the fridge door for me. I couldn’t do any of those things without a service dog. If I fall, he’ll go get help, or he’ll start barking until someone comes to check on me. It took two and a half years to get him fully trained, and that came with a big price tag. I’m a big advocate for service dogs, and I want to make others aware it’s possible to afford one. It will change your life if you have one.
To read the full interview, pick up the February issue of 605 Magazine or click here.