A career in disability and human rights

LAUREN PRIESTLEY
Last updated 05:00 28/05/2014
Robbie Francis
Lauren Priestley
SPEAKING UP: Robbie Francis says she doesn’t need legs to make a difference.bb
Robbie Francis
BABY STEPS: The first prosthetic Robbie Francis used was so tiny it didn’t have toes.

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

And that's what makes her a great advocate for the 2014 Attitude Awards to be presented on December 3, World Disability Day.

The Auckland woman, who has a prosthetic leg, was supreme winner of the 2009 awards and is encouraging others to enter this year's event before nominations close on July 10.

She's never been one to hold back and has chalked up a string of impressive achievements in her life so far.

She's 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.

Francis was born with phocomelia - an extremely rare condition that meant she lacked 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 above-knee amputation at age 12 that she started to feel self-conscious.

The Mt Eden resident 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, it was amazing how no-one actually 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 faze 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 now works at Attitude Pictures and says more people should nominate others for the awards.

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

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"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."

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."

Go to attitudeawards.org for more information.

- Central Leader

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