Elizabeth Ramsey: Mrs. Iowa USA and Advocate for Learning Disabilities

Welcome to fellow LDA-Iowa member, Elizabeth Ramsey! She reached out to LDA-Iowa and gave us permission to share her story! Elizabeth wears many hats including wife, mother, firefighter/lead paramedic, Mrs. Iowa USA pageant winner and individual with learning disabilities. Elizabeth is using her platform as Mrs. Iowa USA to raise awareness and advocate for learning disabilities and is in the process of writing a children’s book about learning disabilities.

Having a learning disability, including dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and an auditory processing deficit, has not prevented Elizabeth from reaching her goals. “I want to show people with learning disabilities that a learning disability does not define you or your value in this world.” What an important message to share with others!

Elizabeth’s Story:

Hello, I am Elizabeth Ramsey and I am Mrs. Iowa USA. I am super excited to work with the Learning Disabilities Association of Iowa! This July I will be competing for the Mrs. USA title and I am bringing something very different to the pageant industry… I am a person with multiple learning disabilities, dyscalculia, written expression and if that isn’t enough I also have an auditory processing disorder. I am using my Mrs. Iowa Crown to bring awareness to learning disabilities and be an advocate for those with learning disabilities. I want to show people with learning disabilities that a learning disability does not define you or your value in this world. There are ways to find your strengths and adapt, working around your learning disability. I have worked for the last 24 years as a firefighter/lead paramedic in Omaha NE. The Omaha Fire Department has less than five percent females and I love working as a first responder in a male dominated job.

I remember as a kid feeling embarrassed about my learning disability because I had to go to special classes. When I was in the regular classroom the other kids would get their papers back with good grades and my papers were covered in red ink.  It made me feel terrible about myself. I was often feeling confused when the teachers gave lessons because I didn’t understand what the teacher was talking about and  I would daydream.  I spent a lot of time daydreaming in my early school years. There were assignments I was required to do and I would not have them correct so I would have to stay after school or take the work home where my mom and dad tried to help me and I would become frustrated, usually covering my homework with tears. My parents knew I was smart but did not know how to help me. I had a lot of sick days during my elementary years due to stomach aches caused by school related stress. I was able to find some joy in school excelling at piano, singing and art.  I had a knack of hearing a song and memorizing the words after only hearing the song a few times. I still enjoy music and have picked up the banjo along the way.

When I was tested for a learning disability my test results showed I had a very high IQ but my academic level did not resonate with my high IQ.  No one really explained to me anything about my learning disabilities and I was pulled out of classes to attend resource class with other children who also had different levels of disabilities. Being put in resource class made me feel more different than ever and looking back now, if someone would have explained to me that I just had a different way of learning, I might have had more confidence when it came to my school work.

When I got to middle school I had a resource teacher who changed my life, Mrs. Rosenquest. The very first day of class she had us watch a documentary called, “I’m Not Stupid” and it explained what a learning disability was and why we process information differently. From that point on I felt more confident.

Mrs. Rosenquist was always encouraging me and trying new learning methods to help me succeed. She was very patient and never let me say, “I can’t.” She even found what my personal strengths were and encouraged me to try new things like athletics and show choir. By the time I was in high school I knew how to work around a lot of my struggles and with lots of different electives to take, I really felt a higher level of confidence! I had all the tools I needed to succeed and If I needed help, I just had to ask! I took my exams in quiet rooms alone with extended time, I had extra help with math with one on one tutors, and I loved my social life and athletics. With the help of one special teacher I went from not seeing myself graduate to actually going to college!

I knew I wanted to help people and I thought firefighting sounded exciting and fun. I knew my physical strength and critical thinking skills could be put to great use. I attended a community college for a Fire Protection Associates Degree, receiving a partial scholarship. Part of the curriculum for my degree was to become EMT Basic certified.  When I started my field time at the age of 18, my very first call was for, “CPR in progress”. The patient survived and I could not believe I had the ability to save a life! I soon enthralled myself in the emergency medical field knowing that I could work as a firefighter and a paramedic. At the same time I was attending community college, I was then accepted into the prestigious Creighton University Paramedic Program. I received my EMT Intermediate License after only 3 months and then I started the more advanced Paramedic Program. At the same time I was attending 2 colleges, I was applying and testing for as many fire departments as possible. At that time the physical agility tests were made to wean out females and I passed several written and physical exams. By the time I was 19 I had multiple job offers, and I had not even finished paramedic school! I accepted a job with the City of Omaha in 1998, starting my career right after I turned 20, being one of the youngest recruits ever hired. When I accepted my position with Omaha Fire and Rescue I had to cease my enrollment at Creighton and things happened so fast I did not complete my associates degree. I attempted to complete my associates degree a few years later but after failing my basic algebra class multiple times, I decided it was not something that I needed to have. I was later able to continue my paramedic classes through the Omaha Fire Department and I used many of my study and testing techniques I learned in middle school. I really had to work hard but completed the program with a B+ and passed the national exam with flying colors.

Today I don’t see my learning disabilities as disabilities, they are just another part of me. I’m so used to working around my disabilities I rarely feel affected by them and I don’t feel different like I did as a child.  I know what I need to do to work around my disabilities so they do not interfere with my duties…I have to write down addresses when we respond to calls, I write out math if I have to give a complex drug dose during an emergency and I complete my patient care reports in a quiet place using spell check. These are things that most paramedics do anyways. I always double check my patient care reports for mistakes and I was once told by our Medical Director I had some of the best documentation on the department. It was such a great compliment!

People are very surprised to find I have learning disabilities and this is why I am an advocate for people with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities are hidden disabilities and I know all too well how a learning disability can affect your self image, self worth, and value to society. I also know that having a learning disability doesn’t have to define you. If a person with a learning disability has the correct resources they can be successful at anything they want to achieve, the journey will just be a little more challenging and look different.

I am currently writing a few books and the book I am most excited to share is a children’s book about learning disabilities. The book is written to inspire children who are learning disabled and tells a story about a little girl that has a learning disability but she is also learning abled! My goal is to give the books to special education classrooms and to offer the book to the world through Amazon. I look forward to any opportunity to share my story and educate parents and children about learning disabilities. If you are interested in talking with me, I can be reached at omahataxidriver@hotmail.com. I can also be reached on Facebook on my Mrs. Iowa USA page.

We’d love to hear from others! Share your story about your journey with learning disabilities!