Dr. Alette Coble-Temple is certainly not just another pretty face. The reigning Ms. Wheelchair CA 2015 is not only a member of the APA Committee on Women in Psychology, a member of the 2014-2015 class of the APA Leadership institute for Women in Psychology, but she is an Associate Professor in the College of Graduate and Professional Studies at John F. Kennedy University.
She plans to spend 2015 promoting Parental Rights Includes Disability Equality (PRIDE) - her platform, where she will advocate community collaborations for people with disabilities who are striving to become parents.
Alette Coble-Temple, PsyD, believes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Thank you to this lovely role model - a brilliant, shining example of the all the possibilities available to young women with disabilities.
AXIS: Tell us a little bit about yourself include your disability and career accomplishments?
Dr. Alette Coble-Temple: My name is Alette Coble-Temple and when I was born, I was deprived of oxygen for six minutes. While the medical community only gave me a ten percent chance of surviving, my parents knew I was a fighter. By age two, I was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy, and the experts did not believe I would survive. One of the first psychological neurological assessments I had was at the age of five; the doctor concluded that I was mentally retarded. Again, my parents knew that the experts were incorrect. From preschool through fourth grade, I was placed in a special school for the "handicapped." This school was not focused on academics, but rather forcing us to learn how to feed ourselves, dress ourselves, and even walk. The goal was to make us as nondisabled as possible. I hated it. In the fourth grade, I rebelled. We lived five blocks from our local public school, and I demanded that I go to that school rather than riding the special bus, to the special school. My parents supported my demand, and fought to have me fully mainstream in the local school. Again, the experts said, "This is the worst decision you could make for your daughter." Of course, those experts were also wrong. It ended up being the best decision of my life.
I graduated high school with honors in 1989, and attended Santa Clara University where I earned a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology in 1993. I went on to John F. Kennedy University where I obtained my Master's Degree in Sport Psychology. After working a year with professional and collegiate athletes, I decided to return JFKU and obtain my Doctorate Degree in Clinical Psychology. During my doctorate program, I discovered my advocacy voice for the disability community. I began publishing articles on sexuality and disability and advocating for parental rights for the disabled.
After I graduated, I never anticipated working with adolescents or the criminal justice population, especially since my adolescence had been so difficult. I spent the next six years working in juvenile hall with adolescent girls. It was challenging, yet thoroughly rewarding.
While I have achieved many things in the academic and professional arenas, my greatest accomplishment in life reside on the personal arena. In 2000, I married my partner, friend, and number one supporter. In 2004, after much heartache and disappointment, we successfully adopted our daughter, Kathryn. Becoming a parent is the greatest joy and accomplishment in my life.
What are some of the barriers you face as a psychologist and a professor with a disability?
The greatest barriers I face as a disabled psychologist, are the myths and assumptions people make about my disability. Professionals even believe that clients will never understand me. I have had supervisors tell me that I can't be a psychologist because of my speech or because I can't use my hands.
As a professor, I have been blessed to work in an environment that embraces diversity. Being a professor at JFKU has afforded me the opportunity to thrive in a supportive environment. Having allies in the work environment makes coping with barriers manageable. Every now and again, I will have a student who tries to claim that they didn't do well in my class because they couldn't understand me. Of course, this complaint comes after the class is over and they realize how hard I grade.
Unfortunately, the profession of psychology has historically been a unfriendly community towards the disabled. I often times have felt the most depressed by the way professional organizations in the field of psychology exclude the disabled. I often encounter these experiences during conferences or professional meetings. Disability is always the last marginalized group to be considered. As a newly appointed member to the Committee on Women in Psychology for the American Psychological Association, a member of the Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology, and a delegate to the National Council for Schools in Professional Psychology, I am eager to b a voice for the disabled and shift how the psychology profession approaches disability.
What is one piece of advice that has impact your life the most?
As a young child, my parents always told me that I was the only expert of me. This has been my guiding mantra throughout my life. On so many occasions, experts have tried to tell me what I need to be successful. Whether it be a wheelchair design, which school to attend, what career to pursue, or whether or not to be a mom. The so called experts were never right. As soon as I advocated for what I needed, I became successful and achieved my goals. I use this advice to guide both my professional and personal life. When I work with clients, I affirm that they are their own experts.
You are one of most driven people I know. What is your favorite hobby and thing to do on your down time.
Adventure is my middle name! I am passionate about traveling, domestically and internationally. I love to ski, swim, ride roller coasters, and attend theater. I live to see and experience the world with my family and friends.
Congrats on winning Ms. Wheelchair CA 2015 Pageant! What inspired you to compete in such a competition?
Approximately 18 months ago, I was reflecting on my life and I realized that the time had come to get back to the disability community. I realized that there are very few role models in our community for people with disabilities. “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It was during this reflection moment that I made a personal commitment to become more active within disability policy. I applied to the Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology and was ecstatic to be selected into this group of amazing women leaders! During my intensive summer course, I set a goal to become active within disability policy.
Upon my return home, my husband mentioned that he signed me up to receive information on the Ms. Wheelchair California Competition. I literally looked at him as if he was crazy! 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, service and mentor, and advance public policy. I took the plunge and I am so thankful. I have forever become part of a sisterhood of strong leaders within the disability community.
What are some issues you hope to tackle during your reign?
As Ms. Wheelchair California 2015, I am committed to increasing the visibility of people with disabilities within mainstream culture. As a mother, educator, researcher, and advocate with both a physical disability and severe speech impediment, I serve as a positive role model for women with disabilities. Through my personal and professional experiences, I will mentor other women with disabilities on how to successfully navigate education, employment, intimacy and parenting. Through my work with the American Psychological Association and the support of John F. Kennedy University, I will further advance the Women with Disabilities STEM Education Research Agenda Development Project. I am excited to work with state congressional leaders to advance policy changes that address poverty and people with disabilities. I am prepared to provide local and national trainings to medical professionals around sexuality, pregnancy, and maternal identity for parents with disabilities. In response to findings from the National Council on Disability related to parents with disabilities and their families, I will promote research and educational trainings to address the significant and systemic barriers facing people with disabilities who want to create and maintain families. Through media exposure, I look forward to increasing the visibility of day-to-day life for people with disabilities. Lastly, I will continue to motivate our community to empower themselves and be mentors to others to reignite our civil rights and ensure our voice is represented at state and national policy proceedings.