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Tilly featured in US Women's Media Centre article

This teen is using her bionic arms to bring awareness to young people with disabilities

As a baby, Newcastle, U.K., native Tilly Lockey lost both hands to Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B. Over the years, Lockey tried various National Health Service (NHS)-provided prosthetics. But three years ago, Lockey’s mother enrolled her in Open Bionics’ arms project, which employs cutting-edge 3D printing technology to make bionic arms.

Lockey, now 13 years old, can do day-to-day activities, like applying makeup, with her arms, which she has documented on her influential social media platforms. She has met the Dalai Lama and recently received a new pair of bionic arms from movie director James Cameron at the premiere of his new movie, Alita: Battle Angel (2019).

In an interview with The FBomb, Tilly Lockey discuss the importance of kids with disabilities feeling represented and the work of Open Bionics.

The FBomb: Both of your hands were amputated after you contracted meningitis in childhood. When did you start to wear bionic arms, and what was the transition to using them like?

Tilly Lockey: Well it was pretty much as soon as my hands were amputated and were well enough to wear prosthetics that I started to wear my first hand, but I didn’t really wear it much because it wasn’t great and it didn’t help me. As I carried on through life without hands, I kept adapting and finding out ways I could do things. Then, when I got my second prosthetic, I would get frustrated because I wanted to use my hands, but of course you need to practice. Once you’ve got it, though, you’ve got it! It just takes a little bit of trial and error first.

Can you tell us about how you got involved with Open Bionics specifically and what the company is doing?

We were forced to take a break with prosthetics for a while because technology was just stuck. My mom had heard a bit about 3D printing, and so out of curiosity she did a quick search online for 3D printed prosthetics, and up popped Open Bionics! Their hands are completely 3D printed and they were making cool hands that escape the ordinary and look nothing like normal hands. They had the exact same vision as us: Bionics don’t have to look so realistic. We’re not ashamed, we’re not just trying to blend in, so why not go the opposite way? They were actually looking for a child, below-the-elbow amputee, and so we got in touch. I’m now an ambassador for them and give them brutally honest feedback to help make the best bionic hands for people who need them most.

You've gained quite a bit of attention on social media. Why do you think it's important for people, whether they live with disabilities or not, to see individuals like you?

Well, you see the models. All tall, all skinny — they all look the same! I feel like it’s really important for people to see the real world, the unedited version. You may not be “beautiful” or “perfect” in someone else’s eyes, but you are perfectly you! Having to see a stereotypical idea of perfection every time you pick up a magazine can seriously put you down, and it shouldn’t! I have received so many messages through Twitter and Instagram from people who are really insecure about themselves, and seeing my confidence and how I’m just myself with no filters is contagious. It has inspired them that it is fine to be different. Our uniqueness should be admired and we should be proud.

Do you see people who wear prosthetics being represented in the media? How do you think they could be better represented?

Not really, no! I can’t think of anyone that I have seen in the media lately wearing prosthetics. You might get some people that are limb difference presenting, but not so much wearing prosthetics. I think those who do are trying to make a bold statement. Like what I’m trying to do is to say it’s OK to be different. I think things are starting to change for the better. We need to keep putting this pressure on fashion and the media industry to make things change sooner rather than later. We need to see more prosthetics and people who are classified as “disabled” — although I hate that word as they could actually be more “able” than some people considered “able-bodied” — in magazines, on catwalks, in films, everywhere. However I don’t feel like we need separate model agencies or types of magazines that only include “disabled” people. They need to be represented in the same magazines, films, and agencies as able-bodied people. After all, these industries are creative, and what’s more creative than just being really unique?

What has been your experience as a social media influencer? What do you hope to accomplish with your platform?

I didn’t start off thinking I was going to become an influencer, I just really wanted to help prosthetics companies develop the best device for kids. The next step was to try and show the world prosthetics could be cool and fashionable so that people would actually want to wear them and stop looking at them as just a medical device. I like to think of my bionics as a really awesome fashion accessory! I feel really blessed and I’m so grateful to have such amazing followers and a really accepting community that builds each other up. I hope to accomplish seeing people with differences being proud of who they are, whether with bionics or not, because after all, the best thing about us humans is that we’re all unique and we should embrace that. We need to take the stigma away from how people think of disabilities! There’s a song that I really love by Alessia Cara and one phrase she sings that really resonates with me, and that is “You don’t have to change a thing, the world can change its heart. No scars to your beautiful, we’re stars and we’re beautiful.”

Tilly featured in US Women's Media Centre article:


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In 2005, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem founded the Women’s Media Center (WMC), a progressive, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to raise the visibility, viability and decision-making power of women and girls in media and, thereby, ensuring that their stories get told and their voices are heard. To reach those necessary goals, we strategically use an array of interconnected channels and platforms to transform not only the media landscape but also a culture in which women’s and girls’ voices, stories, experiences and images are neither sufficiently amplified nor placed on par with the voices, stories, experiences and images of men and boys.

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