The Incredible Jessica Cox

by Ricky Rillera


NEW YORK – Filipino American Jessica Cox – the first person without arms to obtain a pilot’s license – will be hosted by Handicap International  to visit Ethiopia.  Her visit will be filmed as part of the documentary RIGHTFOOTED, which tells the story of Cox’s life and her desire to redefine what it means to be disabled.

Cox, 33, was born without arms as a result of a birth defect, will visit the charity’s inclusive education project to show children with disabilities and their peers how to “think outside the shoe”.

The second of three children born to an American music teacher and a Filipina nurse from Samar, Cox has achieved more using just her feet than most other people dare to aspire to. She achieved a black belt in Taekwondo when she was 14, and earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona by typing papers with her toes.  She always dreamed of becoming a pilot, and in 2008, after years of persistent effort, she achieved this goal by soloing a single engine 1946 415C Ercoupe Airplane.

Cox loves adventure sports – rock climbing and snowboarding to name a few – and she just made her first sky dive last month.  She is named in the Guinness World Record for being the first armless person certified to fly an airplane.

While in Ethiopia Cox will work directly with children, their families, teachers, and Handicap international staff. In an effort to reach a wider audience, she also hopes to meet with government officials to speak on local television and radio programs about her life and accomplishments. The goal is to change attitudes about what’s possible, and to inspire.

“In Ethiopia,  only one percent of children with disabilities are educated,” says Matteo Caprotti, Handicap International’s country director for Ethiopia. “Most parents of children with disabilities do not think they can benefit from going to school.”

“I am extremely excited for the opportunity too work with Handicap International in furthering their goals in Ethiopia,” Cox said.  “My accomplishments are just as much a story of opportunity as they are about possibility.  I hope that sharing my story will help Ethiopians realize that children with disabilities should be given the same opportunities that children without disabilities are given,” she added.

Handicap International’s inclusive education project at six primary schools in Ethiopia is developing a model of

“disability-friendly schools” that foster the inclusion of children with disabilities.  This important work, which is done in collaboration with local disabled people’s organizations, regional education bureaus, and USAID, impacts hundreds of children, including about 40 who are living with disabilities.

She has become a motivational speaker, mentor, and advocate for the alternately abled. In the past for years she’s traveled the world from Europe to Australia and Africa, sharing her inspirational story.  She has spoken at the World Economic Forum and he Pentagon, met Pope Benedict XVI and President Obama, and appeared on The Ellen Show and CNN.

During her speaking engagements and in her personal time, Cox counsels individuals with  disabilities and their families, emphasizing the importance of persistence and dreaming big.

“There are to words I’ve eliminated from my vocabulary, Cox says. “‘I can’t.’ Because once you say those words, you’ve already failed.” She also emphasizes the importance of opportunity for persons with disability.

Prior to visiting Ethiopia, Cox will also be visiting the Philippines on a personal trip. Her brother, Jason, is studying at the Ateneo de Manila University.

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