I'm differently abled, not disabled: Armless pilot Jessica Cox

I'm differently abled, not disabled: Armless pilot Jessica Cox

Filipino-American Jessica Cox was born without arms due to a birth defect, but has gone on to lead a fulfilling life that includes becoming the first armless pilot in the world, and the first armless black belt in the American Taekwondo Association. 

Jessica Cox
Jessica Cox is in Singapore for a talk to share stories of her overcoming challenges and be coming the first armless pilot in the world. (Photo: Christy Yip)

SINGAPORE: Jessica Cox describes herself as "differently abled", a term that focuses on abilities rather than disabilities. 

The 34-year-old was born with a rare non-genetic birth defect that left her without arms but that has not held her back from getting a degree, getting a black belt in taekwondo or flying an aeroplane.

"Well I don't see the term 'differently abled' as a negative phrase and when I think about 'disability' or the word 'handicapped, it seems like there's a negative tone to it. I have floated from term to term. In fact, I used them sometimes on different occasions because people register disabled better than differently abled, and they see the word disability as the correct term," Cox said.


She was 25 when she got her pilot's certificate, but it was no easy feat. Cox took to flying in 2005 and earned it after three years of training with three flight instructors in three states. 

It got even more difficult when friends in the aviation community started doubting her ability to conquer the challenge. 

"There was a very difficult year in my flight training journey where I felt everyone had given up on this possibility. I pulled up this picture of an aeroplane and put it on the backdrop of my computer. Every morning I spend just a few minutes envisioning what it would be like to fly this aeroplane," she told Channel NewsAsia. 

Part of her success also comes from her sporty teenage years. She swims, scuba dives, surfs and slacklines, and doing sports has taught her the value of discipline. 

"For example with taekwondo, I not only learned the martial arts itself but also discipline. Being a part of activities in sport really helped me to develop discipline, set a goal and not give up. Once I reached that goal, I set a new goal," she said. 

Now, she has taken all the lessons learned and focused it in motivational speaking and reaching out to the public – differently abled or not.  


"It might sound strange, but what was even more difficult than learning to fly an aeroplane was figuring out something people take for granted, such as the ability to put on my pants," Cox said.

She uses a modified windshield repairman's suction cup and hook that holds the waistband while she wiggles herself into a pair of pants. 

"The ability to put on my pants, to get dressed on my own. Those little victories are actually bigger celebrations," Cox added. 

She's started to host a YouTube show called Toe Talks with a fellow armless friend, and they share their tips of daily living with those who might be challenged in the same way. 

While prosthetics arms are available and will continue to get better, Cox said that she will never go back to using them. 

Having used them for 11 years, Cox said that even the most powerful prosthetic arms or hands will not make her quality of life any better. 

"This is who I am, and I don't need arms to do better because I've already done so much with my feet. ... If you look at my right foot, it looks like I can spread my toes apart more. I have a better grip and it's shaped more like a hand than the average person's foot," she said. 

Motivational speaker Jessica Cox is in Singapore for a one-night only show ELLE Inspires with Jessica Cox on Saturday (Jan 27) where she shares her story at the MES Theatre at Mediacorp. 

Tickets are being sold on Sistic, and are available on site on Saturday. 

Source: CNA/fs