Disability ad­vo­cate


ROB­BIE Fran­cis is not your aver­age 25-year-old.

She has been to In­dia to help chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties, com­pleted a whirl­wind in­tern­ship at Disability Rights In­ter­na­tional in Mex­ico, and spent a year in Is­rael study­ing in­ter­na­tional con­flict res­o­lu­tion.

And she has done it all with a pros­thetic leg.

The Mt Eden woman was born with pho­comelia – an ex­tremely rare con­di­tion that meant she was born with­out most of her left leg and had sev­eral bones miss­ing in her right.

She learnt to walk on a pros­the­sis, af­fec­tion­ately known as Lucy, when she was a tod­dler.

‘‘It’s dif­fi­cult to say ‘pros­thetic’ at that age, so it was just ‘ Lucy left leg’. It’s funny be­cause I can’t live with­out her but I’ve def­i­nitely had my mo­ments of de­spis­ing her.’’

It wasn’t un­til she had an aboveknee am­pu­ta­tion at age 12 that she started to feel self-con­scious.

She tried to cover up her plas­tic leg for years be­fore de­cid­ing to em­brace it and painted it flu­o­res­cent pink.

‘‘For a time I didn’t want to be known as the girl with a plas­tic leg, which is the name I’ve ac­quired. It’s just what hap­pens when people want to put you in a box.

‘‘Once I flaunted it, amaz­ing how no-one cared.’’

She is now known for paint­ing dec­o­ra­tions and ‘‘tat­toos’’ on the pros­thetic. She is also a mu­si­cian and sews in her spare time.

Her right leg is still af­fected by the con­di­tion and may have to be am­pu­tated one day – a pos­si­bil­ity that doesn’t phase her.

‘‘It’s not a big deal to me. You don’t need legs to make a dif­fer­ence in the world. Re­gard­less of whether I have one or none I can achieve the things I want to.

‘‘And with two ar­ti­fi­cial legs I can choose what height I want to be, or what shoe size. It has its ben­e­fits.’’

Fran­cis won the Youth At­ti­tude it was ac­tu­ally Award in 2009 and went on to take the At­ti­tude ACC Supreme Award the same year.

She now works at At­ti­tude Pic­tures and says more people should nom­i­nate oth­ers for the awards.

‘‘It changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly.

‘‘It gave me a plat­form to launch into the world as a disability ad­vo­cate. I started to feel this re­spon­si­bil­ity which led me to my ca­reer in disability and hu­man rights.’’

The 2014 At­ti­tude Awards will be pre­sented on World Disability Day, De­cem­ber 3, and nom­i­na­tions close on July 10. A new fea­ture is a Ju­nior Award for a per­son un­der 15.

Awards trustee Dan Buck­ing­ham says the event is about chang­ing mind­sets as well as cel­e­brat­ing achieve­ments.

‘‘We want kids to be able to see other kids do­ing these great things. There was a gap there and now there’s a chance for young people to be recog­nised.’’


Speak­ing up: Rob­bie Fran­cis says she doesn’t need legs to make a dif­fer­ence.

Baby steps: The first pros­thetic Rob­bie Fran­cis used was so tiny it didn’t have toes.

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