No arms? No problem

September 21, 2012, 10:39 am Lylah M. Alphonse

Tisha UnArmed's inspiring everyday life

No arms? No problem

She calls herself "Tisha UnArmed," but once you meet her it's difficult to think of her as disabled.

All of the things we do with our hands every day - from putting on makeup to driving a car - this 25-year-old woman does with her feet. And even though she starts every one of her videos by pointing out "And I have no arms!," her cheer, determination, and sense of humour are what takes centre stage.

"If you're always taking the easy way out, then you'll never learn how to do anything difficult," she told Yahoo! Shine in an interview.

The oldest of five kids - and the only one with a physical disability - Tisha was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up "a little bit everywhere," she says. Her father's family is from Jordan, and she spent a few years in the Middle East before moving back to the United States by herself when she was barely a teenager.

In Jordan, "Everyone was fine but me," she says. "There are no opportunities for a handicapped American in a third world country."

She went through physical therapy as a child, but Tisha credits her mum with teaching her "how to do things without even thinking about them."

"She would sit me in the kitchen on the floor, and she had a special jar of beans or rice that I would play with," she remembers. "She'd open up the jar and dump it out onto the floor and I'd pick things up one by one and put them back in the jar." It was entertaining, but it also taught her how to develop the dexterity in her toes. At physical therapy, her mum insisted that Tisha learn how to do things the hard way - to drink from a cup without using a straw, for example.

She doesn't really remember feeling frustrated by her disability while growing up. "It's a combination of my own personality, my stubbornness, and my determination to do what needs to be done. And not a lot of people have that," she told Yahoo! Shine. "I kind of feel kind of sorry for those people, because they sit home and feel sorry for themselves." When people make assumptions about what she can or can't do, "I just prove them wrong," she says. "It's educational for them."

Her determination and independence are evident in her YouTube videos, where she shows the world how she navigates her life in St. Louis, from getting dressed in the morning (a tool with a hook helps her button her clothes) to washing her hair, putting on makeup, and even eating sushi with chopsticks.

"You've gotta be really patient, because chances are it's going to take you 10 times as long to do anything with your feet as than it would for someone with arms," she deadpans in a video about making a sandwich. After advising viewers to do a little stretching or yoga, she takes a running leap onto her kitchen counter, opens a cabinet with her shoulder, takes out a plate with her toes, jumps down, and carries it to the table by holding it between her chin and her left shoulder (which she calls "my nubs"), before delivering a mini-lecture on the importance of sanitation.

"Sanitation is key when using your feet, because there are lots of germs on the floor!" she says cheerily as she scrubs, with soap, at the kitchen sink and grins at the camera.

Doctors still don't know why her body didn't develop properly before she was born. "My mother didn't do any drugs," she told Yahoo! Shine, referring to the rash of birth defects caused by the anti-nausea medication Thalidomine in the 1960s. "There was no explosion of chemicals. She didn't dye her hair or anything. It's just an unexplained event."

She has little indentations where her arms are supposed to be -- she calls them her "nub sockets" - and her right leg is about 8 inches shorter than her left. Doctors wanted to amputate her right leg when she was a baby, she explains in one video, but her mother wouldn't allow it. Now, she has a special prosthesis that fits over her right leg, to even out her gait while walking, but she takes it off to write, drive her specially modified car, and do work around her home.

"I have been using my feet all my life," she says. "They are my hands." When an infant is born without arms, her first instinct is to grasp at things with her feet, Tisha points out. "I didn't really think about it," she told Yahoo! Shine.

Cooking is one of the few things she finds a little bit difficult, but not for the reason most people would think. "The chemistry of it all confuses me," she admits in one video. "Putting ingredients together, it's very foreign. But I'm learning."

Last year, Tisha graduated from St. Louis Community College with an associates degree in graphic design; an artist with the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists, she uses her toes to draw and paint as well. "Right now, I'm a little obsessed with oils and water colors," she told Yahoo! Shine. (You can see a portfolio of some of her work on her Facebook page.) She's looking for a job and finding it difficult, not because she doesn't have arms, she says, but "because the economy is not so great, and there are so many people who graduated with me with the same skills."

She decided to start making YouTube videos to showcase her graphic design chops. Instead, the videos have become a source of inspiration for people from all walks of life.

"If I can educate more people to be a little bit more open minded about disabilities and conditions, then I've done my job," she says. "Not only am I educating abled people, but I'm also educating handicapped people to be more independent."

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  1. Adam10:37pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    hahahaha! fail embedded youtube clip

    1 Reply
  2. Trevor L09:32pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    I am amazed that people like these amazing talent.a japanese boy was borned blined hsi mother love him despite his blindness.His mother noticed as she sung to hime he would wriggle his toes. She bought him a toy piano .He played by ear. He is now a world class piano player composing his own music since he was a child.You remind me of another man who was born with no arms or legs.He was a son of a preacher.It took many yrs for him to accept his diability.Every day he thanks Jesus for his condition because he now preaches about Jesus all over this world. If he did not have his disabilty he would not be doing this.They day is comming when Jesus is returning & we will be getting our new eternal bodies perfect.Time here is only temporary soon we will get the resurection body by us believing in in Jesus.We have a great future.

  3. NotaBimbo08:35pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    What about the people suffering in our country/region? Why is someone from the USA considered special?

    1 Reply
  4. Galah08:27pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    There are plenty of inspirational people out there in NZ who live with all sorts of disability and whom we come across every day. Yahoo, please run a feature on an inspirational disabled (lacal) man to demonstrate gender and regional neutrality.

  5. ManMana07:47pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    Good on her. But there are plenty of inspirational men out there if only femmoyoo would allow them to be so.

  6. Kilo07:44pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    What a great young lady, good on her especially for her will and spirit to be as normal as possible. but then again, what's normal these days....usually extremely go girlfriend!!!!!

  7. Galah07:43pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    See the Pc censors are at work again.

  8. 06:57pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    'life is short, life goes on'

  9. stephen06:51pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    Talk it up i can read the paper listen to news on tv drink a cuppa tea and still kick my dog when she makes a smell under table add that my mate still can make way on my lap for my tea ok ok this girl is better

  10. Spongebobpants06:15pm Sunday 23rd September 2012 NZSTReport Abuse

    Wow how good is this lady, makes the rest of us look a bit like wimps.