Editor’s Note: The Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation is the only, official state pageant recognized by Ms. Wheelchair America. All of their titleholders progress to compete for the Ms. Wheelchair America title. Wheel:Life had the honor of interviewing two of their titleholders – Ms. Wheelchair California 2010, Jennifer Kumiyama and Ms. Wheelchair California 2015, Dr. Alette Coble-Temple. See their stories below.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2010, Jennifer Kumiyama
Jennifer Kumiyama, age 35, was born with Arthrogryposis , a joint condition that causes many of Jennifer’s joints to be fused in a fixed position. Despite going through several operations, Jennifer has to use a wheelchair to get around. Many people may recognize Jennifer from her performance in “Aladdin; a Musical Spectacular” at Disney California Adventure Theme Park in Anaheim, California where she is a performer and singer. But this isn’t the only spectacular thing Jennifer does. She is also the state coordinator for the Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation.
Jennifer has been with Disneyland for 13 years now, and has been a state coordinator for Ms. Wheelchair California for 4 years. When Jennifer was 22, she auditioned at Debbie Reynolds Studio in North Hollywood.
Every person who was there to audition was able-bodied, except for Jennifer.
This was discouraging for her at first. Jennifer explains, “I remember feeling totally inferior, and that I should just go home.” But, despite her concerns, she auditioned anyways. Jennifer remembers, “I was so nervous during my audition that I had to start over several times. It really shook me.”
Once Jennifer got home from her audition, she received a call back to audition again, and was then offered the part. Jennifer makes up a part of the ensemble for Aladdin and performs 4 shows a day and 4 to 5 times a week for 2,000 people a day from all over the world.
To this day, Jennifer is still the only person in a wheelchair in the world to perform on a Disney stage.
Being able to perform means more to Jennifer than most realize. By being a performer who is a part of something so big despite her disabilities, she hopes to trigger a movement, and encourage others to reach for their dreams as well.
Jennifer is the oldest of six kids. With 4 brothers and a sister, she was raised with the same responsibilities and chores as her siblings. Growing up under a military mentality contributed tremendously to her courage and success in life. Jennifer was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California in 2010. After that, she applied for the position of Ms. Wheelchair California State Coordinator. In 2012 she was able to crown her first title holder and host her first pageant.
“Working with Ms. Wheelchair California taught me a lot about myself,” Jennifer explains. “When I got the job with Disney I thought I had fulfilled my purpose. At this time I thought I had only one passion in life, but after getting involved with Ms. Wheelchair California, I realized that I had truly fulfilled my purpose and goal.”
Working with Disney helped Jennifer to be an advocate for the disabled community, while getting involved with Ms. Wheelchair California helped her to be hands-on with people with disabilities and truly make a difference in the lives of other women. Some of these Women who have been encouraged and inspired by Jennifer include Dr. Alette Coble-Temple.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2015, Dr. Alette Coble-Temple
“I remember seeing Jennifer singing on stage and I’ll never forget it,” says Alette Coble-Temple, Ms. Wheelchair California 2015. When Alette’s daughter turned 10 years old, Alette took her to Disneyland where they saw the Aladdin production. It was the first time they had seen a wheelchair user in a stage production.
Two weeks later, Alette was teaching a class at JFK University on Disability Culture. In this class, she showed her students a film that had a clip of Jennifer performing in it. Alette was shocked to see her in the film, especially since she had just seen her to perform two weeks earlier. After getting home, Alette told her husband about Jennifer, and her husband looked her up online.
Alette’s husband then wrote Jennifer a thank you note and told her about Alette. In response, Jennifer told him that Alette should enter the Ms. Wheelchair California pageant.
Without Alette knowing it, her husband had signed her up to compete.
Alette explains, “Part of the reason I decided to do the pageant is for the social justice. If you know the statistics, even though the ADA is 25 years old, people with disabilities still have a 70 percent unemployment rate, while 30 percent are denied healthcare. I think part of why that is, is that people with disabilities, don’t see other people with disabilities in professional roles. If you can’t see it, it’s hard to be it. “
Alette has been a wheelchair user her entire life, after having her umbilical cut cord 6 minutes too early at birth, causing her to be deprived of oxygen for all 6 minutes.
Alette currently teaches a Doctoral Psychology class at John F. Kennedy University. She also works for the California Board for Parole where she does physiological evaluations on inmates. So, at this point in her career, she really wanted to be a mentor for people who have disabilities, and give back to the community.
After competing for Ms. Wheelchair California, she came home wearing the crown. Alette believes in raising awareness. She wants to create disability equality, and her main focus is on raising awareness for parents with disabilities. This hits home with Alette because she is a parent with a disability.
Alette has been married over 15 years, and has a 10 year old daughter that her and her husband adopted when she was 5 days old. But, the adoption was a very discriminatory process. Because Alette had a disability, people were reluctant to let her and her husband adopt, and because of this, they were in the media a lot.
However, as most people know, sometimes God works in mysterious ways. With her and her husband featured in the media so much, a woman who was pregnant saw them on TV, and decided she wanted them to adopt her baby. That is why Alette stresses the importance of representing parents with disabilities, and works to give them a voice.
About the Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation
It’s important to value who you are and to empower and inspire others to do the same, just as Jennifer and Alette have done and are doing. Both Alette and Jennifer have touched and empowered the disabled community in so many ways, which is why they encourage others to get involved in Ms. Wheelchair California, so that you can do the same.
The mission of The Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation is to recognize the achievement of women in wheelchairs. Each year Ms. Wheelchair California will strive to educate and advocate for Californians living with disabilities. If you would like to learn more about Ms. Wheelchair California, or if you would like to get involved, go to www.
Additional Resources From Wheel:Life on Relationships
Within Reconnecting: Relationship Advice from Wheelchair Users, readers will hear from people who use wheelchairs as they share their perspective on friends, family and relationships including dating, marriage and parenting.
Author Lisa Wells shares real-life examples and success stories throughout the book based on her lengthy career that includes ongoing interactions with disability advocates, non-profit supporters and peer support group members.
Reconnecting: Relationship Advice from Wheelchair Users features interviews with:
- Graduate student & quadriplegic Ather Sharif about connecting on a college campus
- Amputee Thomas Morris on connecting through his unique appearance and personality
- NSCIA [Buffalo, NY chapter] President Natalie Barnhard who connects Wheels with Wings
- Paraplegic Todd Robinson who explains his family connection through the joy of adoption
- Quadriplegic Ashleigh Justice who connects on the quad rugby field and as a young mother