When officials crowned Heather Whitestone Miss America in 1995, I thought it was nice. She is beautiful and talented.

To me, it was a sign that the world is moving closer to accepting people of all types, including those who daily face a variety of physical barriers. She is profoundly deaf - the first Miss America with a notable physical disability.Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing her speak. Her name is now Heather Whitestone McCallum (she got married recently). She was in Utah for the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf international convention.

I was unprepared for the level of emotion with which hundreds of people who are deaf or hearing-impaired greeted her. It was clear that in the deaf community she is more than a woman who was publicly honored for being beautiful.

She is proof that people with disabilities can do very mainstream things. In her, the Miss America selection panel publicly recognized that hearing loss in no way diminished the things that make up a real Miss America: beauty, grace, education, ability to communicate, poise, talent, heart.

It's a realization that should be crammed down so-called "normal" people's throats until such honors are bestowed so commonly on all types of people, regardless of whether they're disabled or are different in some other way, that it's no longer notable.

That doesn't mean that everyone gets treated exactly the same way. People who have disabilities may need accommodations.

At the conference, for example, McCallum's comments were displayed in close-caption on a giant screen behind her. And several platforms were set up around the room so that sign-language interpreters could translate what she said for hearing-impaired people nearby.

People who have disabilities may also have to make some accommodations: for their own disabilities, for people's well-meaning (usually) ignorance, for basic curiosity and lack of understanding.

She clearly conveyed a couple of very important points.

People who have disabilities are not limited in their abilities by someone else's view of what they can and cannot do. During the talent segment of the pageant, McCallum performed a lovely ballet, something that many people might believe was impossible because she cannot hear the music. She said that she played it over and over extremely loud (she has 5 percent hearing in one ear) and memorized the beats of the music. It became an exercise not in hearing but in counting and memorizing. The result, however, was no different than if she heard every note.

She said that when she visited Taiwan, people there were absolutely amazed that she could speak and travel and function very well in a hearing world. Most people in Taiwan who have hearing impairments apparently don't get much opportunity. Education for them is limited to about third grade. It's assumed that they can't do certain things and there's not really much opportunity to challenge the limitations or low expectations placed by society.

But people who have disabilities have to be realistic. They are limited to some extent by disabling conditions. And equal access laws won't change that. My mother is blind. She is capable and talented and brilliant, but she's never going to be a cab driver. And all the yearning in the world won't make it happen. Neither will social activism. She could picket the cab company, I suppose, for denying her some equal right, but it wouldn't change anything. She is not capable of driving a cab.

It's OK.

That was McCallum's bottom line. She exemplifies what can be achieved with ambition and hard work. Then she wraps the package with a graceful acceptance of what can't be changed.

We're all limited.

We could all use a dose of the grace with which McCallum was amply endowed.