When Alette Coble-Temple was born, doctors predicted she had a mere 10 percent chance of survival. The umbilical cord had wound its way around her neck, forcing medical staff to sever it – and her oxygen supply – a full six minutes before delivery.
The emergency procedure led to cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder affecting muscle coordination and necessitating that Coble-Temple use a wheelchair. The disability has factored into many of the challenges Coble-Temple has faced throughout her life, but she is proud to say it has also heightened her identity.
“I wouldn’t change who I am,” said Coble-Temple, 43.
Coble-Temple is a wife, mother, university professor, doctor of psychology, disability advocate and Girl Scouts leader. She’s a crusader who fought for and gained acceptance at Almond School and then Los Altos High. She’s the 2015 recipient of John F. Kennedy University’s Harry L. Morrison Distinguished Teaching Award. And as of this month, the Walnut Creek resident is also Ms. Wheelchair America 2016.
The last is an honor Coble-Temple only recently considered pursuing. She long thought of pageants as routed in the concept of beauty queens and toddlers with tiaras. It was Robert Temple, her husband, and Doug Haldeman, her program chairman at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, who suggested that she enter the Ms. Wheelchair California competition, a precursor to the national social justice pageant. They described it as an opportunity for Coble-Temple to bring disability advocacy to a larger audience.
“Alette is a force of nature and just an extraordinary human being, and someone like that, you just want to support to be all they can be,” Haldeman said.
Coble-Temple won the state title in February and progressed to the weeklong national competition beginning July 27 in Des Moines, Iowa. The judges ultimately selected her over 24 other state titleholders, and she was crowned Aug. 2. She is the first contestant in pageant history to win with a severe speech impediment.
“I would definitely say I was shocked, overwhelmed and extremely humble,” Coble-Temple said.
According to the event organizers, Coble-Temple was selected for her presence and public poise, her responses to interview questions and her participation in pageant workshops. But it was her platform, P.R.I.D.E. (Parental Rights Includes Disability Equality), that seemed to resonate most with judges.
For years Coble-Temple and her husband struggled to adopt a child. An estimated 20 adoption agencies rejected their application on the basis of Coble-Temple’s disability, and a scammer bilked money from the couple by pretending that she was pregnant and claiming that she wanted the Temples to adopt her unborn baby. It was through a television news report about the fraud and ensuing court case that a pregnant Eureka woman learned of the Temples’ determination and ultimately chose them to adopt her baby, a girl born in 2004.
Coble-Temple has since become a passionate advocate for promoting equal opportunities for those with disabilities to achieve and maintain parenthood as well as dispelling the negative connotations surrounding disability. She plans to make the most of her new title by traveling the country and sharing her message on a national level.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground, but we have a long way to go as a society toward breaking down the ignorance related to people with disabilities and how we are perceived,” she said.