Hungary selects most beautiful wheelchair user

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Many beauty queens may wish for world peace, but Hungary’s loveliest wheelchair user has a more achievable goal in mind.

In an event unusual for Eastern Europe, the winner of a Hungarian beauty pageant for wheelchair users said Saturday she will be an advocate for improving access conditions for the disabled in the country.

Miss Colours organizer Tibor Kazany said the pageant is the first such event in Europe and will be repeated annually. In the U.S., the first Ms. Wheelchair America pageant was held in 1973.

Katalin Eszter Varga was chosen by a jury from among the eight finalists who rolled on stage in choreographed moves set to music and wore dresses from leading Hungarian designer Katti Zoob.

Varga, 26, a perfume saleswoman who has been using a wheelchair for four years, said there is a lot of work to be done in Hungary to improve wheelchair access.

“It’s hard to access many buildings, bathrooms for the disabled are badly designed and there are few domestic hotels offering wheelchair access,” Varga said after the pageant. “I have many hopes that all this will change.”

The finalists, chosen from more than 50 entrants, received personalized services from hair stylists, makeup artists and photographers.

“It was great to be surrounded by professionals and it was wonderful to see us becoming more and more beautiful,” said second runner-up Marietta Molnar, who competes in wheelchair fencing and basketball and co-founded Hungary’s first competitive rugby team on wheelchairs. “It is important for me to be seen everywhere as a woman, not as just someone in a wheelchair.”

Kazany, the event organizer and a wheelchair user himself since a road accident several years ago, said he got the idea for the pageant from his American business partners.

“Our main goal was to show that women in wheelchairs are just as healthy and beautiful as those walking around on two legs,” said Kazany, who runs a wheelchair distributor. “You don’t have to be sorry for women in wheelchairs because they can be just as healthy and attractive as other women.”

Erika Bogan, Ms. Wheelchair America 2010, was expected to be in the Miss Colours jury, but organizers said she was forced to cancel her trip at the last moment for personal reasons. Bogan has been invited back for next year’s event.

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