Rachel, 22, will make history later this month as the first contestant with autism to take the stage of the Miss Florida pageant.

“I want to use my voice to inspire hope to others,” Barcellona told CNN affiliate WFTS. In April this year she was selected to speak at the United Nations for World Autism Day, and gained praised from all over the world.

Awareness is OK, but we need acceptance : Rachel Barcellona

Rachel is a resident of Tampa Bay. She credits her mother, a nurse practitioner, as her sole supporter since her young life. She started competing in pageants since she was five, and with time she is hungrier than ever.

Besides pageanting, Rachel is a qualified singer, an advocate for people with disabilities, a junior at the University of South Florida and a role model to kids in her work at the Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa. “I want people to know that autism does not hold me back,” she told WFTS. “It’s actually an opportunity for me to achieve my dreams,” she added.

Rachel is suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, according to the website of the Dyspraxia Foundation USA. She loves to sing opera and hopes one day to open a school for children with disabilities.

She also described her struggles with epilepsy, the neurological disorder dyspraxia, and the learning disorder dyscalculia. “The phrase, ‘You don’t look autistic,’ I get that all the time,” And I just want to say, ‘What does autism look like to you?’” she asked.

Slightly disappointed Rachel says she doesn’t get discouraged when pageant judges bring up her disability. She responds, “It doesn’t affect me negatively, and I am very capable of inspiring people and holding a title.”

The preliminary rounds of the Miss Florida competition will be held in Lakeland from June 25 to 27, with the finals on June 29.

We wish you all the luck, Rachel!

Feature Image Credit: CNN

Read More Stories By Ria Das 

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