A Brief Biography of Heather Whitestone McCallum

The first deaf woman to be crowned Miss America.

Photograph of Miss America winner Heather Whitestone.
Heather Whitestone. HeatherWhitestone.com

Heather Whitestone Becomes Miss America

Although Heather Whitestone was the first disabled woman to be crowned Miss America, she won the same way as any other contestant -- by dancing and looking good in a bathing suit. Her STARS (Success Through Action and Realization of your dreamS) platform was also important in helping her to win the crown. The story of her win is permanently archived by the Miss America organization on its website.

After the Win: A Deaf Role Model and Controversy

After her win, Whitestone was feted by the deaf press and other disability publications, such as Ability magazine. For a brief time, she was also the center of a controversy sparked when she was allegedly misquoted in a popular magazine, as well as subject to criticism from some members of the deaf community. Deaf Life magazine gave the issue the full treatment in its cover story in July 1995. She was also the cover celebrity in volume 5, issue #5 of HIP Magazine. When her reign ended, this criticism was alluded to in an editorial from the DeafNation newspaper.

In 1995 Heather received the first of two cochlear implants. She received her second in 2006. At that time, McCallum stated, "As a mother with two young boys, I wanted to have every opportunity to hear and communicate to the best of my ability."

McCallum has served on the National Council on Disability and on the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education board.

She has also appeared in the famous "Milk Mustache" advertisements.

Her mother wrote a book about how the family raised their deaf daughter, Yes, you can, Heather! and McCallum herself has written several books, including Listening With My Heart and Believing the Promise.

Heather Whitestone’s Early Life

Heather became deaf at eighteen months after being hospitalized for a diagnosis of Haemophilus influenza virus.

Antibiotics reduced her high fever and helped save her life, but the drugs, the virus, or a combination of both left Heather without her sense of hearing.

Growing up in the small city of Dothan, Alabama, she attended public school without an interpreter and learned to speak and read lips. However, being unable to keep up with her classmates she transferred to the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri at age 12.

After winning the Miss America contest Heather completed her college education with the scholarship money she received.

Keeping Up with Whitestone

Although Whitestone focuses on her family (she married a hearing man, John McCallum, and they have children), she continues to be involved here and there in the deaf community. 


Heather Whitestone (1995). Miss America. Retrieved 2/27/2016 from http://www.missamerica.org/our-miss-americas/1990/1995.aspx

Updated by Melissa Karp, Au.D. 

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