Shannon McNally, Miss Black Country 2022 winner, lives with cerebral palsy, and has been working to raise awareness of the condition and its day-to-day impacts.
The 22-year-old says the condition has shaped her life, affecting all of her milestones from birth.
‘I was premature, born approximately two and a half months early,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘My mother said it was touch and go as I was put in an incubator.
‘When I got to around walking age, whilst I reached other milestones such as eating, she knew my walking wasn’t developing as it should be and my balance was a big issue.
‘Doctors told my mother I’d be fine, but her maternal instincts told her there was something up with my walking.
‘At around five years of age, I eventually got a consultation at the local Birmingham hospital.’
A scan showed Shannon had scarring on the brain and she was then diagnosed with form of cerebral palsy called asymmetric diplegia.
She also has chronic fatigue, and her right leg is shorter than her left, so she has muscle weakening and spasms.
‘The condition is also very changeable,’ she says, ‘one day my left arm will be great and my right arm won’t work as I want it.
‘This can alternate on a daily basis as it depends which side of my brain is dominating on that day.
‘The bottom line is, my body and mind are not in sync, so I find it incredibly tough to organise and plan my day.
‘Because of this, on day-to-day basis the attitudes of some strangers can be mortifying – sometimes they make you feel that you don’t want to go outside again.’
There have been instances in which Shannon is shaky when holding something such as a cup of tea, and people think she is lying about her disability.
The effects go beyond just the physical – mentally she has suffered too.
‘At school I could be slower,’ she remembers, which affected her self esteem.
Shannon continues: ‘I was bullied at school about my cerebral palsy.
‘The other children teased me about my splints or walking aids, so I tried to hide my disability and not embrace it.
‘I wasn’t being true to myself and worried about other people’s thoughts. This really hurt me.
‘Then one day I thought “no more”. I realised I should be more proud of myself and embrace my disability.
‘That was it, my attitude changed and I’ve never looked back.
‘That’s why I want to inspire other disabled people to do the same.’
Since her school days, the beauty therapy trainee has gone on to win Miss Black Country and is in the process of setting up her own charity to support those with disabilities.
Taking on the challenge of a beauty pageant has been important to her when shattering stereotypes around disability and capability.
Shannon says: ‘I’m out to challenge these negative perceptions and attitudes and entering Miss Black Country was a fantastic platform on which to do this.
‘I just thought: I’m going to show everyone what disabled people can do.
‘I often get told I don’t look disabled but what does it look like?
‘The perception of what disability should look like needs to change.
‘I went into the competition to celebrate difference.’
A very small number of disabled contestants enter Miss Great Britain competitions, and Shannon has gone on to become Miss Black Country’s first ever disabled winner.
‘The judges were impressed by how determined I am to improve disability awareness and positive attitudes, in my community and beyond,’ she says.
‘They told me they were inspired by the honesty and openness of me embracing my disability and decided that I was their idea of perfect role model for Miss Black Country.’
Shannon has received positive feedback from members of her community – something she says gives her hope that attitudes are changing, calling it an ‘awakening’.
Now there are 65 people in the finals for Miss Great Britain, and Shannon is in the running.
She says: ‘I would love to win but my aim has always been to spread awareness and improved attitudes about disability.
‘In my mind I’ve already achieved what I set out to do. Anything else, like the crown, will be a bonus.’
Looking to the future, Shannon wants to work on the charity she’s developing.
She says: ‘At my school disability wasn’t talked about and that lead to bullying. This needs to change. Educating children about disability is a vital step to improving attitudes and therefore our society.
‘I’m planning to start my own charity to called Invisibility targeted at children and young adults.
‘Disabled children will be invited to get involved and present to schools about their experiences, especially with bullying.
‘It’s also important to teach children about aids some people need to use. I wore splints and I looked like an alien to my classmates. This made me feel I wasn’t a “normal” child and I shouldn’t have been made to feel like that.
‘I think that disability awareness has improved over the years and that times have changed, but, I do think there’s still a way to go.
‘The aim is to give disabled children the confidence when they older to embrace who they are.’
That is exactly what Shannon is now finally able to do herself.
Alison Kerry, head of communications at disability equality charity Scope says: ‘There are over 14million disabled people in the country, that’s one in five of us, yet too often disabled people are ignored, overlooked or simply not given a chance at all.
‘It’s fantastic news that a disabled contestant is representing her area in the Miss Great Britain competition.
‘It’s also not surprising that negative attitudes have regularly been a thorn in Shannon’s side.
‘Scope’s research shows that a staggering three in four disabled people said they have often experienced negative attitudes and a quarter of disabled people said, they’ve been accused of faking.
‘Attitudes won’t improve overnight, but the more disabled people push boundaries and the more high profile representation there is the better.’
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