Growing up with a congenital limb difference & working at Open Bionics – Meet Liz!

25th June 2021

This month, we caught up with Liz Wright, a Customer Liaison Manager at Open Bionics, to discuss what her day-to-day role involves and what it was like growing up with a congenital limb difference. 

Liz, let’s start with your role at Open Bionics.

I often think I have the best job at Open Bionics because growing up, I didn’t know many people with limb differences, and now it’s amazing to be part of the Open Bionics team, where I get to connect with so many limb different people across the world and be part of their journey. Growing up, I didn’t have a positive experience at clinics when exploring prostheses options, that’s why when someone registers their interest for a Hero Arm, it’s really important to me that each experience is positive and personal.

For anyone not aware, what is a congenital limb difference? 

To me congenital simply means born with a limb difference.

What was it like growing up? 

When I was growing up, limb difference was taboo, something to be hidden. When I had to start at a new school halfway through term, the teacher prepped the whole class that there was a ‘disabled girl’ joining. It made it a very awkward experience. Because everyone constantly tried to avoid confrontation about my difference, I created a loud and comedic persona that I found made the topic more approachable and easy to discuss. 

What’s your experience of wearing prosthetic arms? 

I remember my first NHS prosthesis was a skin-toned artificial arm. I understood I had to wear it to fit in, but that just made me feel like there was something wrong with me. I felt like I could do most things with one hand (I still feel like that now) and really didn’t like wearing a prosthesis, which was cumbersome and got in the way. I actually snapped the fingers off when I was eight years old because I didn’t want to wear it. 

Were you part of any limb difference support networks growing up?

No, the only experience I had growing up with the limb difference community was through clinics which didn’t leave a great impression. I remember meeting a boy who had the same limb difference as me and I actually thought we would both have to get married because we both had the same limb difference. I wish my family had access to amazing networks like the Lucky Fin and Reach as now there is a wealth of information out there to help children and parents understand congenital limb differences.

Did perceptions change as you entered adulthood? 

I spent my entire life trying to prove I am just as able to do things as a person with two hands. 

Wearing the Hero Arm has also made a huge difference to the way people approach my limb difference. There are no more pity remarks, people are in awe and curious to find out more about the tech and actively go out of their way to shake my hand, which is really cool.

I still think we have a way to go to change how corporations identify people systemically. I remember applying for an office job and in the section about classification of yourself, there was a question about whether you identify yourself as disabled. I never have, so I ticked No, and got pulled up by HR and told I ticked the box wrong. Rather than trying to make people fit into categories, I think companies should be obligated to review processes to make sure they are inclusive for individual needs. 

Has your limb difference had an impact on your confidence? 

I’m now older, wiser and definitely embrace my limb difference, but there was a time when my self-esteem would be non-existent and it was mostly noticeable at key milestones. Getting photos taken was always an anxiety trigger. Family occasions, friend’s birthdays, I would always be the one taking the photos or hiding my limb difference in the back. 

How did you build your body confidence?

There’s only so many ‘you’re not good enough’ memos’ you can take before they start fading into the background and you listen to your own body because only you will be able to know what you’re capable off. As a parent of twins, I’ve proved a lot of doubters wrong, but it’s important not to dwell and look forward. 

Wearing the Hero Arm has also made a huge difference to the way people approach my limb difference. There are no more pity remarks, people are in awe and curious to find out more about the tech and actively go out of their way to shake my hand, which is really cool. 

What biggest difference would you say the Hero Arm has made?

I love wearing my Hero Arm in public just because it gets such a positive reaction. One thing I didn’t realise it would help with so much is my posture and back health. Since wearing a prosthetic arm, I’ve noticed a real difference.

What advice would you give to parents raising a child with a limb difference? 

Allow your child to explore and fail, that’s how they will find ways to adapt. Be mindful of how you term their limb difference. Growing up, my parents would simply say ‘I had a little bit missing’ which made me feel inadequate at times, it was purely innocent, but as a child you take everything so literally. 

If you would like to explore whether the Hero Arm would be the right prosthesis for you, register your interest. 

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The Hero Arm uses myoelectric sensors which detect underlying muscular contractions generated from specific muscle groups in the arm. These are then amplified and converted into intuitive and proportional bionic hand movements.

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