What It Means to Be Right-Footed
By Jessica Cox, Right Footed
My name is Jessica Cox and I was born without arms. I’m the subject of a new documentary film called “Right Footed.” The title is actually true — I do a lot of things with my right foot just like most people do with their right hand, including typing (I can type 25 words per minute). I learned that I was right-footed back in public school. What I did not know back then was that it was the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that guaranteed I could sit in a “normal” classroom. For example, the administration made a special desk that was kind of like an easel, so that I could do my work without special help. They also replaced all the round doorknobs in the school with handles, so that they’d be easier for me to open with my foot!
Getting access to an education and a college degree has been critical to my success in life. The ADA also helped me get a driver’s license (I drive with my feet, with one foot on the wheel and one on the gas and brake) and eventually a pilot’s license. Yes, that’s right — I fly an airplane with my feet. It took a lot of personal effort, persistence, and most of all I had to overcome my own fear and the perception that it was “impossible” to do that. But I learned early in life that you shouldn’t listen to what people say you can and can’t achieve.
Since I earned my wings in 2008, I’ve worked as a public speaker and a mentor for children with disabilities and their families. It was as a result of this work that led Handicap International (H.I.) to ask me to travel to Ethiopia in 2013. In recent years, H.I. has been working to open up schools to children with disabilities. In the past only 3% of Ethiopian children with disabilities have been able to attend school, so you can appreciate the importance of this effort. The impetus for this is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international treaty based on the ADA. Ethiopia only recently adopted the CRPD but it is producing a lot of wonderful change.
My visit to Ethiopia was all about dispelling myths about disability, and to show people that people with disability can achieve anything so long as we are given equal opportunity and access. As part of that effort I flew a plane over the capital Addis Ababa, and it was on TV all over the country that night so millions of people got to see it. Almost more important to me, was that the day I did that, a boy named Tarikou who was also born without arms, was able to be there at the airport. He was able to meet me and see my flight. His mother told me afterwards that he was really inspired and that he said he also wanted to become a pilot. That’s what it’s all about, not imposing limits on ourselves or allowing other people to do so.
When I came back to the United States I learned that the CRPD treaty, the same one that Ethiopia ratified, had recently failed to be adopted by the U.S. Senate. I’ve never been a political person but after that trip to Ethiopia, the voices of some of the children I met there stayed in my head, and their stories haunted me. It was very difficult to not do something that could help them and other children just like them in other countries around the world. So, I joined the group of people working to ensure passage of the CRPD, including some of the pioneers who helped develop the ADA, and began personally lobbying members of the U.S. Senate. Today, the Senate still has not adopted the CRPD, but I’m going to keep fighting until it does.
My trip to Ethiopia and my work lobbying for the CRPD was filmed as part of Right Footed. In fact it’s the part of the film I’m most proud of. I believe that it will help educate people about the importance of the disability treaty and that my personal journey shows why it is so vitally important that it be ratified. With your support, and a lot of personal effort and persistance, I know it will be.
You can now bring “Right Footed” to your home town, to screen at a theater or community venue. For more information about the film and the CRPD treaty, visitwww.RightFootedMovie.com.
About the Guest Blogger
Jessica Cox was born without arms. The doctors do not know why she was born “differently-abled.” But she does. Jessica has made achievements with her feet that most people only dream of. Now she shares her story with people around the world.
Born in 1983 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, Jessica has learned to live her life with her feet. There were many questions at the time about whether Jessica would be able to live a “normal” life. However, Jessica’s father has said he never shed a tear about her birth condition. He had full confidence in her potential. With the support of her parents and family, Jessica became confident in herself as an adult and continued to explore the world with her feet.
Jessica’s most famous accomplishment was learning how to fly. It took three states, four airplanes, two flight instructors and a discouraging year to find the right aircraft: a 1946 415C Ercoupe Airplane. She received the Guinness World Record for being the first person certified to fly an airplane with only their feet.
Jessica now works as a mentor for children with disabilities and their families, as a public speaker, and as an advocate for disability rights in the USA and abroad. She and her husband, Patrick, are Goodwill Ambassadors for Handicap International USA. A documentary film about her life and work, titled Right Footed, has won ten major awards since its debut at the Vatican’s film festival in 2015. You can read more about it atwww.RightFootedMovie.com.