The mission of The Ms. Wheelchair California Leadership Institute is to recognize the achievements of women in wheelchairs. We are dedicated to improving the lives of all people with disabilities through advocacy, community building, and being lifelong learners who support each other to be our best selves.
Ms. Wheelchair California is not a beauty pageant. It is a competition based on advocacy, achievement, communication and presentation. Its purpose is to select the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman to represent people living with disabilities. The selected titleholder must be able to communicate both the needs and the accomplishments of her constituency to the general public, the business community and the legislature.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2019 Angela Piazza
I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. My parents still live in the home I grew up in. I have a younger sister and younger brother. Even though I have cerebral palsy and had challenges my family treated me just the same as they did my brother and sister. I attended a Catholic grammar school which I was the only one with a disability in the school. Even in High school, I was mainstreamed. I never knew any other way.
I was really involved with the United Way of the Bay Area. I worked with many teenagers all over the Bay Area. We created a volunteer group called Bay Area Students In Service (B.A.S.I.S.). We did a lot of volunteer work throughout the 5 counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. We also created a book cover that had informative agencies for teenagers to contact if they needed to. The book cover was distributed in high schools throughout the 5 counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. The students would use the book covers to cover their textbooks, which had agency names and numbers for teenagers. I was also the first youth board member on the Board of Directors on the United Way of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988, I was in a United Way commercial with the B.A.S.I.S group with former 49er R.C. Owens.
I attended Sacramento State University, I received a Bachelor's degree of Science in Criminal Justice and a minor in Communication Studies. While I was at Sacramento State, I was on a co-ed fraternity for Law Enforcement. While at Sacramento State University, I was in charge of the career fair for law enforcement. We the largest turn out with 60 different agencies throughout California.
After college, I had my daughter just a year later and 2 ½ years later I had my son. I moved away from their father in 2001 due to abuse. I have raised my children on my own ever since. Now my daughter is 22 and my son is 20. It was not easy alone, but we made it through.
While my children were in school, I advocated for them a lot. While my daughter was a freshman in high school, she sustained a bad concussion while playing soccer. It took her a year and a half to recover. I pushed for her to get a pediatric neurologist and we succeeded. Her doctor diagnosed her with post-concussion syndrome. Unfortunately, the school she attended at that time was not very accommodating. She tried her best, but she moved to a different school in her junior year and finished her schooling at a school that did meet her accommodations and gave her a 504 plan.
My son also had a hard time with school due to anxiety and depression. It was very difficult for my son to connect with teachers. Each time we found a great teacher they ended up leaving the school for different reasons. This was so hard for us, but I kept advocating for him. We did ok. He is now 20 years old and a manager at a bike shop. I am proud of both of my children that keep going after their dreams despite their difficulties.
My main hobby is that I love to crochet. Creating things out of yarn is so relaxing and fun to me. It relaxes me, literally lowers my blood pressure and keeps me calm.
I also really enjoy going to downtown Redwood City, my hometown, for the activities that are happening in the area. It so much fun to meet new people and meet up with friends. Enjoying music, film, the arts, and festivals. I really do love attending these events because they are accessible and make it enjoyable for all.
Our past titleholders are a diverse group of wheelchair-using women, and are all accomplished advocates for the disability community
Ms. Wheelchair California 2018 Krystina Jackson
Krystina Jackson, a northern California resident for 27 years, earned the title of Ms. Wheelchair California 2018 this past March.
With a background in corporate finance and a BS in Business Administration, Krystina is passionate about encouraging women with varying abilities to pursue their passions fearlessly and ‘Lean In’ or ‘’Roll In’’ to not only the boardroom but any space in which they can envision themselves. A Bay Area resident, Krystina has been inspired by Silicone Valley movers and shakers from ‘Lean In’ author Sheryl Sandberg to San Francisco’s candidate for Mayor, London Breed. Krystina share’s her life and her work on multiple social media platforms as a way to inform and educate others on celebrating life with disabilities and the importance of working hard to contribute to the community of over 54 million Americans living with disabilities.
Krystina is committed to transforming social response, advancing public policy, and strengthening community collaborations for people with disabilities in their quest for financial independence through forging successful careers in the field they choose. Her tenacity and perseverance guides her well as she navigates the waters of entrepreneurship in the Silicone Valley while growing her Disability Accessories startup G.U.S.T.O. G.U.S.T.O is her recipe for personal achievement, which stands for: Grit, U( you, the customer), Spark, Tenacity and Optimism. Sometimes all it takes is a spark to change the direction of our life. With her platform to encourage women with varying abilities to pursue their passions fearlessly, Krystina is hoping to spark a social revolution that will result in economic expansion. A revolution accessible to everyone.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2017
Tayloure Richardson was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta which is also known as brittle bones. At an early age, Tayloure knew that she could not let her physical limitations keep her from living a full life. With the support of her wonderful family and great friends, she has been able to graduate from college and give back to the disability community through working with various disability organizations.
Tayloure is no stranger to oppositions. And when she is faced with that in life, she does not let that stop her. This was proven when she interned and lived in Washington, D.C. for a semester. Using a wheelchair in a place that is not too accessible for people with disabilities was a struggle, yet, Tayloure faced that challenge with the same attitude she's had her whole life- with optimism, courage, and tenacity.
Tayloure received her Bachelors of Arts degree from California State University, Northridge, in sociology. She has always had a heart and a passion to serve others, especially those who are disabled. So much so, Tayloure began volunteering for A non-profit organization that helps disabled veterans, called Operation Confidence. Through them and with the leadership of Consuela Mackey, Tayloure was able to cultivate her advocacy efforts. Currently, Tayloure is working towards her Masters degree in social work with a concentration in veteran affairs, from the University of Southern California.
Tayloure loves to spend time with her family in her spare time. She enjoys watching cooking shows, and playing with her dogs. Tayloure also tutors school-aged children in subjects such as- math, reading, and writing.
Tayloure's platform is to bring awareness and program initiatives for disabled veterans. "It would be my honor to serve them."
Visit Tayloure's Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on her adventures as Ms. Wheelchair California 2017.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2016
Kathleen D. Barajas
Kathleen has been an advocate her entire life, first for herself and more recently for the disabled community. She was born with cerebral palsy, and due to the severity of her disability and her speech impairment, she has had to learn to live in a world where differences are not easily accepted. Kathleen spent her elementary and intermediate school years in special education centers; the concept of mainstreaming was not yet heard of. Having a father in the Marine Corps resulted in living in a number of places, and the move to North Carolina found no special school for Kathleen. With no support services other than her family and school counselor, Kathleen excelled in this type of setting. From her sophomore year on, she found herself in advanced level classes earning top grades. Kathleen graduated in the top 10 percent of her class, an honor she worked very diligently for. Kathleen waited a few years before going on to college, working at a former elementary school as a student worker. Kathleen graduated cum laude from East Los Angeles College with an Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration in 1988. She then transferred to California State University Los Angeles, and again graduated cum laude with her Bachelors of Science degree in Computer Information Systems in 1992. Because Kathleen was also interested in accounting, she remained at CSULA to receive an Advanced Certificate. She took and passed the Certified Public Accountant examination in 1996.
During her years at CSULA, Kathleen was continually asked to represent the disabled student office when they required someone to speak of their experiences as a person with a disability. Kathleen was Co-President of the disabled student group on campus, and also appeared on the front cover of the college catalog, along with having her article on Leadership included. In her last year at CSULA, Kathleen was instrumental in trying to get automatic doors installed in a newly remodeled building which had been damaged in an earthquake.
More recently, Kathleen was the Chair (President) of the Californians for Disability Rights Foundation for two years, and currently is the Chair of CDR’s membership committee, assists with CDR's quarterly newsletters, and is also their Web Mistress.
Although Kathleen has been self advocating throughout her life, several times being successful in matters in which others thought were impossible to win, she now advocates on behalf of the disabled community. Kathleen enjoys speaking on disability issues and her own experiences. She believes that although the disabled community has gained recognition and acceptance, there is still much to be taught to the general population, and one way to do that is sharing of oneself. She looks forward to giving presentations to the younger population, so that they will become more accepting of those with disabilities.
Kathleen hopes to one day complete her autobiography to have published, along with two other books she would like to write. Kathleen also authors a blog pertaining to disability-related attitudes and stigmas.
Ms. Wheelchair America 2016
Ms. Wheelchair California 2015
Dr. Alette Coble-Temple
As Ms. Wheelchair California 2015, Dr. Alette Coble-Temple is eager to serve the community and provide mentorship for successful living with a disability. She is excited to spend the year promoting her platform PRIDE: Parental Rights Includes Disability Equality. Her aim is to transform social response, advance public policy, and strengthen community collaborations for people with disabilities in their quest of parenthood.
Advocacy, mentorship, and adventure guide Dr. Coble-Temple’s teaching philosophy in her role as advocate, professor, licensed psychologist, and mother. Dr. Coble-Temple joined the PsyD faculty the College of Graduate and Professional Studies at John F. Kennedy University in 2004. Over the past ten years, she has taught many core courses in the PsyD program including Integrated Professional Seminar-III, Lifespan Development I, and II, Child and Adolescent Psychopathology and Treatment, Disability Culture, Clinical Sport Psychology, Attachment Theory, and Adoption and Psychology.
Dr. Coble-Temple believes that the classroom is a place for students to enter into an amazing adventure. She challenges students to synthesize and critically analyze academic knowledge from a multicultural perspective. During class students have opportunities to apply and evaluate learned academic knowledge through a variety of experiential exercises and research activities.
Dr. Coble-Temple is passionate about psychology and wants to instill that same passion in the students she advises and teaches. She creates opportunities for students to develop research projects, present at conferences, and develop new workshops for the JFK University community.
Prior to coming to JFKU, she worked as a therapist with adolescent girls in a residential treatment facility. She also maintained a private Sport Psychology consulting business where she provided mental skills training to collegiate and professional athletes across the United States.
Dr. Coble-Temple currently serves as an independent evaluator for the Board of Parole Hearings for the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. As an advocate for people with disabilities, Dr. Coble-Temple is routinely asked to speak at national conventions and provide training for businesses. Her professional interests include the impact of severe food allergies on biopsychosocial development, attachment theory and resiliency in children and adolescents, sexuality and disability, forensic psychology, sport psychology, and culturally competent psychotherapy for persons with disabilities.
When Dr. Coble-Temple is not working, her passion shifts to her family. She thoroughly enjoys serving as the co-leader of her ten year old daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Personally, Dr. Coble-Temple attempts to create as many opportunities for adventure in her life. She loves to travel, snow ski, swim, and explore museums. She is the current Co-State Coordinator of The Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2015
Hillary Marides resides in North Hills, CA. She was born with Cerebral Palsy. Hillary is a Ministry Associate of Joni And Friends International Disability Center. She also serves on the Consumer Advisory Board at North Los Angeles County Regional Center and the C.C.I. Consumer Council of LA Care Health Plan. Her platform is lower out of pocket health care costs for those affected by disabilities.
Hillary earned her BSW from Gordon College in Wenham, MA in 1989, and moved to California to get involved with Joni And Friends. She earned her MS in counseling from California State University, Northridge in 1992. While at CSUN she was a counseling trainee in the Office of Disabled Student Services .and won the disabled student services award She was also a counselor at Jr. Wheelchair Sports Camp.
In May 200l She earned her Pupil Personnel Services Credential from California State University, Northridge and worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District. After been laid off , She returned to Joni And Friends.
From 2010-2013 Hillary took biblical counseling classes at The Master’s College and is currently working on Counseling and Theology exams and hopes to be certified by the Association of Certified Biblical counselors in the near future.
In her free time Hillary is active in her local church and loves to swim!
Ms. Wheelchair California 2014
Theresa de Vera
On Saturday February 1st, 2014 – Theresa De Vera (Los Angeles), was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California 2014. De Vera suffered a severe asthma attack in 1996, when she was a junior at Loyola Marymount, and went into cardiac arrest. She went into a 3-month coma. Doctors offered her family no hope and even suggested harvesting her organs so that others may live.
After waking up in late June and going through rigorous recovery to re-learn to eat, dress herself and speak - Theresa found herself confined to a wheelchair. This did not stop her from returning to LMU and receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2004 and a Master’s Degree in Theology with an emphasis in Bioethics in 2008.
In 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaragosa appointed De Vera to the Commission on Disability, which gave her the opportunity to be the voice for the disability community of Los Angeles. In 2007, Villaragosa also appointed her to The Access Paratransit Board of Directors. She is the current vice president on the LA Commission on Disabilities and secretary on the Access board.
As Ms. Wheelchair California, Theresa will continue her work as an advocate for people living with disabilities during her year-long reign through appearances and speaking engagements. She will also compete for the Ms. Wheelchair America title August 4th-10th, 2014 also at The Hilton Long Beach, CA, against an estimated 32 state representatives from our country.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2013
Margarita Elizondo, Ms. Wheelchair California 2013, a single mother three, attends Grossmont Community College in pursuit of a bachelors in Communication. Her everlasting passion to encouraging individuals with, disabilities of all ages to further their education, be self- advocates, inspiring others through the pursuit of their individual dreams and thriving in life despite their challenges. Her dedicated involvement in numerous groups, organizations, and volunteerism is a reflection of that innate passion. In 2007, she founded Blessed with Life, which is a faith based peer support program for people with disabilities and their families. In 2008, she became a Peer Support Advisor for SHARP Memorial Hospital and by 2009, she established the SHARP/HeadNorth Mentor Program for individuals affected by spinal cord injuries. In 2011, she continued to pursue her passions when she founded a Joni and Friends San Diego Chapter, which teaches and encourages churches to disciple and minister to individuals with disabilities. She is a motivational speaker and leadership development trainer in the San Diego Unified School District (working with at risk middle school and high school students through 2nd Mile Ministry.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2012
When Mary was 8 months old she was struck by Polio in her native Mexico. After extensive therapy with very little progress her parents decided to migrate to the United States in search of better health care for her. She started to use a wheelchair in high school and was the first to graduate from High School in her family and also the first to go to college. She received her B.A. Degree at California State University, Long Beach. Mary worked for California State University, Long Beach, Long Beach Transit, Keller Graduate School, The Disabled Resource Center, Atlantis Insurance, and St. Mary Medical Center.
In 2010, she was appointed by the Mayor of Long Beach, Bob Foster, as a commissioner on the Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Disabilities. She volunteered at the Information Center for People with Disabilities at the Long Beach Public Library. Mary Zendejas was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California 2012. During her reign she promoted independence, through self-advocacy, higher education and quality employment opportunities for the disabled community throughout the state of California. Mary’s passion to develop a stronger and more integrated disability community, lead her to be the founder and Executive Director of Professional Abilities Association also known as DisAbled Professionals Association (www.paaofa.org), which is an Association for business working professionals with disabilities, by business working professionals with disabilities. In July 2013, Mary was elected Board Member to Housing Long Beach. In August 2013, she was elected President to the American Business Women’s Association / Diamonds of South Bay. In September 2013, she was elected Co-Chair to DoNAC. In June 2014, Mary was invited by the newly elected Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach, to serve on his Transition Team representing the disability community. In August 2014, Mary was elected Member at Large, for Ms. Wheelchair America Inc. In September 2014, she was elected to serve as Chair for the Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Disabilities. Also in September she received a very prestigious award for “Making a Positive Difference” in the lives of people with disabilities. The Mayor of the City of Long Beach, Robert Garcia announced that he will be appointing Mary to the Long Beach Transit Company Board of Directors, she will begin her term in January 2015. Mary is also in the class of 2015 for Leadership Long Beach, which is a very prestigious and competitive program to get into. Mary is an extraordinary woman with a special gift a woman who lights up the room with her enthusiastic personality and loving presence. Her joyous love for life is contagious.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2010
Jennifer was born with Arthrogryposis (AMC). AMC occur once in every 3,000 births. Doctors said she would never have use of her limbs. Jennifer's inabilities have never stopped her from breaking barriers, overcoming adversity and living her life to the fullest.
Jennifer discovered her passion for music and theater by the time she was in kindergarten. Being a professional singer and actress was a secret dream of Jennifer's.
After much thought, she branched out into the performing world and started auditioning for various performing jobs. Her first audition was for Warner Bros. Reality TV Show "PopStars2". Jennifer was featured in the first two episodes and created a buzz as "the girl in the wheelchair" in TV Guide, Variety Magazine and other local papers. Jennifer's confidence and will to live her dream grew.
In 2002, after an extensive audition process, Jennifer was cast by internationally recognized director of opera and theater, Francesca Zambello, in Disney's "Aladdin; A Musical Spectacular", making her the first performer in a wheelchair in a Disney Theme Park. Jennifer represents the people with disabilities to 8,000 people, from all over the world, on a daily basis.
Jennifer was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California 2010 at the Abilities Expo in Los Angeles, California. She represented California at the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant in Grand Rapids, Michigan and came back the 1st Runner Up to Ms. Wheelchair America and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the Founder of The Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation from 2012 to 2017. She served as Member at Large and Vice President for two terms as Vice President of the Board of Directors of Ms. Wheelchair America. In August 2014, Jennifer spearheaded her fearless team and together they hosted Ms. Wheelchair America Leadership Forum and Pageant.
Her most recent credits include "Forever Beautiful", MTV's "Awkward." and Carmen in Fox Searchlight's "The Sessions" which will release in October 2012.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2009
Alyson grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. The summer before her senior year in college following a missionary assignment in Northern California, Alyson was involved in a near-fatal car accident that left her with a spinal cord injury and paralyzed from the waist down.
Alyson made history as the first woman with a disability to surf in the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, CA on July 26, 2009. She was also crowned "Ms. Wheelchair California" on April 4, 2009 in Sacramento at the state pageant, and placed 3rd Runner Up at the "Ms Wheelchair America" pageant in Rapid City, SD in August 2010. She also holds a feature role in the documentary "Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America," a film to help break stigmas of those with disabilities.
Alyson obtained her BS in Music Education at Samford University in Violin and her MS in Reading and Literacy from Walden University. She joined Free Wheelchair Mission in 2007. In September 2011, she joined a company that helps promote the awareness of movement therapy for those with disabilities and other mobility limitations. In December 2011 and January 2012, Alyson was asked to be a test pilot for Ekso Bionics which was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Alyson continues to be an advocate and source of positivity wherever she goes.
Yosemite National Park is now more wheelchair friendly and ADA compliant due to Alyson’s input while sitting on the Board of Directors. She played a vital role in helping make Samford University more wheelchair accessible because of her disability. She has played violin in several symphonies including those in Birmingham, AL, Atlanta, GA, Irvine, CA, and now her current hometown as well as for weddings and other opportunities that arise. As if that was not enough, she is also a photographer specializing in portraits, newborns, weddings, and photojournalisim.
Alyson speaks to legislative officials, community groups, churches, and schools around the country as well as writing articles for various publications. It is Alyson's desire to educate the public on the truths of having a disability, hurt, habit, or hang-up and empower those to be all they can be in a world full of possibilities.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2008
Shannon Coe, Ms Wheelchair California 2008 and First Runner Up for Ms Wheelchair America 2009, lives with her husband and two children in Davis, California. In 2000, Shannon received a Bachelor of Arts from U.C. Berkeley in Mass Communications. In 2010, Shannon obtained a Master of Public Administration in International Management degree at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS). Her personal and professional passions have taken her to more than 50 countries and led her to work with many disability-focused organizations. Shannon has also presented in conferences and trained local organizations on disability rights issues. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer and mentor for young women with disabilities for the Youth Empowerment Project.
Ms. Wheelchair California 2007
Susan Rotchy, Ms Wheelchair California 2007 currently resides in Dixon with her husband and two children. Ms. Rotchy is the current State Coordinator of The Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation. She was left paralyzed from an automobile accident 11 years ago. Since her accident Susan has become an activist for people with disabilities, beginning with having a voice at the community college she attended, and with that voice enforcing the college to become ADA compliant. Realizing she had an aptitude to bring the disability community and the able body community together from this experience, she proceed straight to the capitol while completing her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at Golden Gate University.
Susan wanted to move her paralyzed body again and realized that there was potential research being done for spinal cord injuries but there was no adequate funding for the scientists. In 2000 she helped pass the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act through her membership in Californians for Cures, which also took an active part in the passage of Proposition 71, the Stem Cell Research and Cures Act 2004. Additionally, she is one of the co-founders of Research for Cure, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization which raises money for neurological diseases, which has raised 300,000 dollars for the Reeve Irvine Research Center at UC Irvine. For her continuous work on raising monies for research she has been thanked by the late Christopher Reeves and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today, Susan sits on the In Home Support Service advisory committee for Solano County and is a board member of Independent Living Resource of Contra Costa County. She is an active member of the Napa Spinal Cord Network Group as well as vice president of Research for Cure. She is currently the Program Manager at Independent Living Resource in Fairfield. In her spare time she plays the flute and piano and her hobbies include quilting and cake decorating. Her platform is bringing awareness to the programs available for people with disabilities to live independent lives. Her motto is “United As One”.