A photo going viral on Reddit features a group of friends with bionic arms who are spreading awareness of limb differences by embracing their own. The group of four have seemingly near-identical differences, each wearing a prothesis on the bottom half of one arm. But until one participant spoke out in the thread of responses to identify herself as “the only one missing a left,” nobody really knew the story behind the photo.
Angel Giuffria is the woman on the bottom right of the photo who discovered it was going viral months after she had originally posted it. From her experience with Reddit this isn’t unusual, and she tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the platform was the first place where she felt encouraged to speak out about her difference.
“I woke up one morning four years ago to a phone call saying I was on the front page of Reddit,” she says. “I had been testing a very cool bionic arm for the U.S. government and someone had pulled a photo of me doing archery with the arm from my Facebook and posted it. I started answering questions on the post but then users kept requesting I do an AMA (which I found out was an ask me anything post). I did that, and the rest is history.”
A congenital amputee, Giuffria was born without her left arm below the elbow and has been wearing prosthetic hands her entire life. At just four months and 10 days old, she was one of the youngest on record to wear a myoelectric hand — an artificial limb controlled by the electrical signals generated by your own muscles — and continues to do her part in encouraging advancements.
From her soon-to-be completed master’s in psychology, for which she’s researching stigma about amputees, to her position as a representative of the brand of prosthetic hand she wears, BeBionic, Giuffria works hard to help those with limb differences like hers thrive. However, she’s also a public speaker and actress who hopes to more accurately represent the world’s population onscreen.
“I’m hoping to further the diversity conversation in media so we get to a point where what’s on TV and film is actually representing the population — and accurately,” she explains. “I’ve traveled all over the world discussing prosthetic devices, technology, and diversity within the industry.”
By the looks of the squad she’s with in the viral photo, you might already tell that she’s not alone in these incredible efforts. From left to right, the picture features Giuffria’s friends Trace Wilson, Ashley Sherman, and Jason Barnes, all of who have their own inspiring stories. Giuffria met each of them through technology conferences or the Lucky Fin Project; back in September, they all reunited in Atlanta while attending DragonCon.
“At the conference, we didn’t do cosplay the first day; we were just ourselves. But we received tons of questions about ‘who are you guys?’ because they thought we were dressed up because of our arms,” Giuffria says of the attention to their prosthetics. “Afterwards, we were all getting dinner and realizing all our bionic arms together were getting a lot of attention. I thought it would be funny to do a ‘mixtape’ photo. Our waitress took it for us outside the restaurant and I think it turned out perfectly.”
It’s evident that others would agree with her: The photo has close to 400 comments on the Reddit re-post — many of which mention that the group looks “cool as f***” The attention, although not always positive, is a step in the right direction, as Giuffria points out that these viral photos many times lead to more productive conversation.
“I definitely think people should think bionic arms are cool! I mean, I think my hand is very cool,” Giuffria says. “If the people who wore them were [the only ones] interested in them, we wouldn’t have the advancements we have had recently. [Bionic arms] have definitely advanced in the last 10 years but we aren’t where the public thinks we are, so I’d love their help to push for more advancements with their general interest!”
And although the advocate expresses a desire for the ongoing advancement of prosthetics, she points out that wearing one should simply be viewed the same as any other human uniqueness.
“Being a person with a limb difference doesn’t make you inherently more sad about your life than others,” Giuffria says. “Everyone has something going on in their life that they are adapting to and figuring out. Human beings are resilient and malleable, and besides the fact that I’m missing a left hand and wear a very, very cool robot hand, I’m pretty much like you.”
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