Alette Coble-Temple may have been apprehensive to participate in the Ms. Wheelchair California and Ms. Wheelchair America Pageants, but, as it turns out, life events had been pointing her in the direction of becoming a strong advocate for people with disabilities before she even knew what that really meant. Growing up with cerebral palsy in the 1970s, doctors and “professionals” gave her little chance of having any semblance of a productive life. Thankfully, Alette and her parents knew better. Required to attend a special education school at first, Alette and her family fought the school system so that she could attend the same school as all of the other kids in her neighborhood in fourth grade and was fully mainstreamed from then on, where she was only getting started in showing others how capable she truly is.
Alette gave the student commencement speech at her high school graduation and then attended Santa Clara University. She became the first student with a physical disability to live on campus and to join the Zeta Epsilon Chapter of the Delta Gamma Sorority. While at Santa Clara University, she founded the first campus support group for students with disabilities. She earned her Bachelors in Psychology and then attended John F. Kennedy University to obtain her master’s degree. She earned her master’s degree in 18 months and was named her graduating class’ Most Outstanding Student. She wasn’t done with her degrees quite yet! She went on to earn her doctoral degree in psychology at JFK University and was again named Most Outstanding Student. She is now a licensed psychologist and has worked in the areas of disability research and has provided clinical practice to a variety of populations. Last year, she returned to her alma mater and became a psychology professor at JFK University. She also serves as an independent evaluator for the Board of Parole Hearings for the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and is part of numerous professional organizations and conventions as a keynote speaker. Yet, with all of her education, experience, and accolades, she still wasn’t sure that she was cut out to be a titleholder.
Some personal reflection and a solid nudge from her husband were what led her to apply for the Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant. Alette says that about a year and a half ago, she realized a desire to get back involved in the disability world after experiencing a lack of local role models with disabilities in her community. At first, she thought the vehicle for her reignited passion would be through her selection into the Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology and disability policy stemming from her participation. Her husband, however, had different plans.
|Alette with her husband and daughter|
While she was away working on developing disability policy, he signed her up to receive information about Ms. Wheelchair California. “I literally looked at him as if he were crazy,” she said of her initial reaction. “However, he did say, 'Do your homework, and then make your decision.'” After much research, I realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to become an active part of the disability community, serve, mentor, and advance public policy.” Still, she went into the Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant feeling a bit like a fish out of water, saying, “Participating in a pageant was definitely a foreign experience for me and the last thing that I thought I would enjoy. I am a student at heart, so I tried to prepare myself as best as I could.” During the three-day event, she actually found that the judging interviews were her favorite part of the process, being able to articulate her views on aspects of disability advocacy. At the crowning event, she heard her name called as the winner in a packed room, including 25 of Alette’s friends and family, and there was a moment of complete shock followed by immense joy. What some may have seen as a simple gesture proved to be the most poignant moment of the night, as Alette says, “The most powerful moment for me came right after they called my name, and my daughter, along with 10 of her friends, rushed the stage. This was extremely powerful since my platform is about parenting and disabilities.”
|The thrilling winning moment|
Throughout her reign as Ms. Wheelchair California, leading up to Ms. Wheelchair America, Alette participated in over 40 appearances, delivering a variety of presentations relating to living successfully with a disability, traveling throughout the state, and even lobbying at the State Capitol. While supporting her platform is key, her goals reach into mentoring others with disabilities regardless of who they are. Of her platform, she says, “While I’m eager to transform social response, advance public policy and strengthen community collaborations for parents with disabilities, I am equally committed to serving the disability community and providing mentorship for successful living with a disability across the nation.”
Looking back on her experiences at the Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant, she says, “I took the plunge, and I am so thankful. I have forever become part of a sisterhood of strong leaders within the disability community” in California, and the experience really prepared her for the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant. It was this sisterhood that she valued most about the Ms. Wheelchair America experience even more than being crowned. Alette explains, “It is very difficult to put into words how powerful the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant is. It is the first time in my life that I was around 25+ other women leaders with disabilities. I went into the competition with the goal of getting to know each contestant, as it was very important to me to learn about each contestant, listen to their experiences, and support their platforms and to leave the competition with a new group of friends and leaders who can support each other. Living with a disability can be exhausting at times. It’s much easier when you can call up a friend who truly understands your experience.”
Only a few months into her reign as Ms. Wheelchair America, she has already completed over 30 appearances and hopes that her reign with take her to all 50 states. She has the support of her psychology colleages, their excitement over her crown and sash a welcome reaction after not being sure how she’d be received professionally. Of what she has enjoyed most about the opportunity, Alette says that she appreciates “meeting people that I would have never met without this title. Whether it be speaking to a room of other professionals with cerebral palsy, to Silicon Valley executives, to mentoring a teenager with a disability, each moment captures my heart and makes me motivated to do as much as I can during my reign.”
Alette comments that the most difficult part of being Ms. Wheelchair America is securing funding for the appearances that she would like to make. Travel is expensive, especially when requiring assistant. “There is so much to be done in terms of advocacy,” Alette says, “and I hope with the right support, I can achieve my goal of appearing in each state and making positive advances in the lives of those with and without disabilities.”
If you or someone you know would like to support Alette’s reign, you can visit her GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/mwa2016.