She drives a car, plays the piano, scuba-dives and practices taekwondo, all with just the use of her feet. Most amazing of all is that she is the first armless person to obtain a pilot’s license.
With her husband, Patrick, Jessica, whose mother is Filipina, travels the world as a motivational speaker, sharing her experiences and encouraging people with disabilities that they can do whatever they want to do regardless of their handicap.
Her life story is the subject of the upcoming documentary titled “Rightfooted”. The movie chronicles Jessica’s journey of overcoming her disability and inspiring others.
In this exclusive interview with Positively Filipino, Jessica talks about what motivates her:
The first time I was moved by a TV piece was when I saw a story about a woman who didn't have any arms. In my entire life I had never met anyone who was like me before. When I was about 17 years old I saw this piece about a woman. She didn't have arms and her story was exactly like mine. What was most moving about it was that she was talking about her life, getting married, about having two sons, changing her baby's diaper.
These were questions that always crossed my mind. Would I be able to be a mother? Would I be able to hold my baby or change my baby's diapers and do these things? In one instant this media piece about her, it was very brief maybe 5 to 10 minutes, answered all my questions and all my concerns. I realized from what I do as a speaker, traveling all over the world sharing my story, when people come up to me and tell me how much my story means to them.
I realized it really is a great opportunity to reach out to other people who are different and who share my similar condition, either not having arms or having some other form of disability, and letting them know that they can also achieve anything that they want to achieve. Whether it be becoming a mother, or getting married or becoming a pilot. Not only that but to reach out to other people who don't have the physical limitations and have more mental and emotional challenges that limit them. When they see someone who doesn't have arms and she can fly an airplane, then what is it that they can't do?
Jessica talks about her Filipino background and how it gives her strength:
It means so much to me to be a Filipino American; and I know that much of my resilience and strength comes from my roots and my mom's story. My mother came from poverty and she was one of 13 children. Her father passed away when she was only 7 months old and she was the youngest. So, they had a very difficult life.
Impoverished, struggling to get by and yet education was so important to their family that every single one of the children received a college degree despite their dire poverty and that resilience. That story of strength and rising above the limitations of poverty gave me the strength to rise above my own challenge of not having arms and being resilient and doing things despite the fact that people doubted what I could achieve. And doing it knowing that anything is possible because my mom was living proof; and she always told me growing up, you can do anything.
Jessica talks on being an advocate for the disabled:
Actually, Patrick is with me. He and I have made a very powerful team in continuing to become disability advocates and traveling to Washington DC to the decision-makers, the senators, and letting them know that it's not just me; it's him and it's both of our stories. Us together, we're a very powerful team helping to change the way people with disabilities are treated around the world. Becoming a disability advocate is something I would've never imagined.
In fact, I stayed as far away from politics as possible; that's just not who I am. Then I found after traveling to these countries and seeing with my own eyes how people with disabilities are not receiving the same treatment that I was fortunate to have. Being born in the United States, I was given every opportunity, but there are countries where people with disabilities are hidden away in their homes, not given the opportunity to go to school; some who are even killed, some who are abandoned and brought to orphanages because their biological parents don't see a future for them within that country.
When you witness that, it changes who you are. Knowing that I am an American and have this profound opportunity to be the voice of those who are disabled, who do not have a voice, brings a new responsibility to me as a disability advocate. It brings to the table these opportunities to go out there and lobby for this disability treaty called The Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and go to the senators explaining to them that I have seen that these children and these people who have disabilities are not given the same type of treatment they should be given.
Seeing that, it's only natural that anyone would want to take part in doing whatever they can to make sure that we ensure that these people are protected and they're given the same opportunities.
This month, Jessica is traveling to the Philippines to speak to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) to help lift their spirits. Her trip is organized by Handicap International United States.
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