By Joe Stumpe
The new Ms. Wheelchair Kansas plans to advocate for more than just people with disabilities.
“The policy that I’m trying to develop actually is for personal care attendants,” Andrea Romero of Wichita said. “They’re the ones who get us up, get us dressed, help us with our daily needs. Currently under the (Kansas) Work Healthy program, they don’t get vacation pay, sick leave or any benefits whatsoever and haven’t gotten a raise since 1997. My goal is to present it in front of the Legislature to get benefits for those who work with us day in, day out.”
“Without their help,” Romero added, “we wouldn’t be able to get to work, wouldn’t be able to be active.”
And active Romero is. “I actually have three jobs,” she said. “I work for Children First as a social worker. I have the privilege of working with four different private schools and three public schools. And then I work as an interpreter for USD 259 for parent-teacher conferences for special education students.”
Romero speaks Spanish and also knows sign language.
Finally, she works as a transitional living specialists for Mercy Home Healthcare, helping patients with things like setting up doctor’s appointments.
Romero, who has cerebral palsy, grew up in Albuquerque. She “always had the desire to live on my own” and moved to Kansas so that Wichita’s Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation could help her do that.
Today she lives in her own home and gets around town in a paratransit van. But she couldn’t do it without three personal attendants, who provide her with nine hours of care a day in activities like getting dressed or using the bathroom.
“I don’t rely on one person because I don’t want them to get burned out,” she said. “It’s hard work. It’s not easy to do.”
Ms. Wheelchair Kansas was started 16 years ago. Honorees represent the state in the Ms. Wheelchair American program. Romero, who received the title last month in Lawrence, is known for her rapport with children.
“I talk to them about what they would like to do in their future and do they have any goals. We talk about ways they can get their homework done and stay organized. Then if they have other issues, like with their family, I’m pretty open to being there as support or counseling if they need it.”
In what little free time Romero has available, she enjoys movies, writing poetry and singing.
“I just enjoy life and I take it one day at a time,” she said. “I think this opportunity is just a blessing to speak up for others.”