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Why I launched a foundation to empower individuals with limb differences

Nicole Brennan is from Chichester, West Sussex and is the founder of IAMPOSSIBLE Foundation.

Growing up with a visible difference presents many challenges and I struggled with self acceptance. I found the process of having to adapt tasks and activities frustrating and it impacted my confidence throughout my teen years and into my twenties.

I have always wanted to support others experiencing the same as there is a huge gap in support for those with limb difference in the UK. However the journey of becoming a mother myself in 2018 was the catalyst to me setting up the IAMPOSSIBLE Foundation.

The journey into motherhood triggered a need for change in me and after years of hiding my arm, I was done with it. I’d had enough! I decided I was not going to be that person anymore. I want to create a world where ability is not defined by an individual’s form or physical appearance and ensure that the individuals with limb differences and their families are confident that nothing is impossible, there is always a way.

What the foundation does

We believe that through increasing visibility, creating a community, information and resource sharing and events, we will equip and empower individuals with limb differences to challenge perceptions of ability and overcome obstacles.

IAMPOSSIBLE has a peer-to-peer network of over 30 ambassadors worldwide that support our mission through sharing their experiences and develop resources for the community.

We also hold events that empower individuals with limb difference to approach activities in new ways by ensuring equity and access to the tools they need to participate in an activity fully.

Prosthetic limbs with surfing brand

Our partnership with Koalaa originated when an ambassador of IAMPOSSIBLE told us about #ProjectLimitlessUK. Koalaa and Douglas Bader Foundation were raising funds to provide every upper-limb-different child in the UK a prosthetic.

I reached out to the founder of Koalaa, Nate Macabuag, and we soon realised that our values were aligned. We wanted to ensure that everyone had access to the correct tools to approach a task/activity with ease whilst knocking down the barriers that those with limb differences face.

Since then I have become a huge fan of their prosthetics and use mine for pushing my buggy, surfing, yoga and cutting hair after becoming a lockdown barber!

The new addition to the Koalaa family is The Nicole Tool (named after me!) and it attaches to the current Koalaa prosthetic in order to give a platform that will both provide grip and balance to the user. I use it for the ‘pop-up’ motion when I am transitioning from lying on the surfboard to standing. It has helped my hugely with balance and being able to successfully stand on the board.

Making surfing accessible

It was incredible to hit the waves with a group of limb different adults and children. Seeing everyone smash it using their Nicole Tool and being able to stand on the board myself was a huge moment for me. Being a part of making surfing accessible for people like me means the world.

For me, I really want to grow IAMPOSSIBLE into a service that empowers the world wide limb different community to approach life with confidence and autonomy.

To be able to knock down any barrier that stands in their way using tools including education packs, peer-to-peer support, community led events and partnerships such as the one with Koalaa and The Wave. We have a long way to go but our team are passionate and driven to create a world where ability is not defined by an individual’s form or physical appearance.

Accepting difference

There are many challenges that people with visible disabilities face. Personally I have had to overcome the disparity between how society represents disability and how I feel in my body. Growing up I never saw anyone with a limb difference, there was no role model for me to look up to. So I internalised a lot of negative thoughts and beliefs around my limb difference and abilities.

My body is all I have ever known so the way I navigate the world is my ‘normal’ but I experienced a lot of unsolicited questions and stares throughout my childhood and was not equipped with the tools to navigate these situations. It took time and practice to have confidence in that my body was made the way it was supposed to be and that I should not be ashamed of my difference.

Creating the tools and network of peer-to-peer support through IAMPOSSIBLE Foundation has been my way of trying to support others that experience is/was same as mine.

I’m so grateful to the team at Koalaa Soft Prosthetics and The Wave for all that they are doing to empower individuals with disabilities to approach activities without barriers. Seeing the beaming smiles of all the surfers at the wave was a huge moment that would not have been possible without the passion of all the team members that were involved on the day and in the run up to the event.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.
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