A Brief Biography of Former Miss America Heather Whitestone

The first deaf woman to be crowned

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

Heather Whitestone made history in 1995 when she became the first woman with a disability to be crowned Miss America. She is hearing impaired and earned the respect of Americans both in and outside of the deaf community with her historic win. With this overview, learn more about her life, before and after the tournament.

Heather Whitestone’s Early Life

Whitestone was born Feb. 24, 1973, in Dothan, Alabama.

She became deaf at 18 months after being hospitalized for an illness diagnosed as 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 the sense of hearing.

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

Miss America Tournament

Whitestone entered and won the Miss America tournament the same way as any other contestant: She danced and looked good in a bathing suit. Her STARS (Success Through Action and Realization of your dreamS) platform was also important in helping her win the crown. The story of her win is permanently archived on the Miss America organization's website.

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 that arose after she was allegedly misquoted in a popular magazine. This resulted in her facing 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 Vol. 5, No. 5 issue of HIP Magazine. When her time as Miss America ended, the DeafNation newspaper alluded to this criticism in an editorial.

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

Marriage and Family

In 1995, Whitestone received the first of two cochlear implants. The following year, she married a hearing man, John McCallum, with whom she has three children. After receiving her first implant, she was quoted as saying, "As a mother with two young boys, I wanted to have every opportunity to hear and communicate to the best of my ability." In 2006, Whitestone received her second cochlear implant.

Whitestone 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. She continues to be involved intermittently in the deaf community. 

In addition, her mother wrote a book about how the family raised their deaf daughter. It is called "Yes, You Can, Heather!" Whitestone herself has written several books, including "Listening With My Heart" and ​"Believing the Promise."

Sources:

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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