Technology was a life changer for 28-year old Rebekah Marine, a down-to-earth girl from New Jersey.
She was born without her right forearm, but ever since she became a proud owner of one of the most technologically advanced bionic hands, in January 2015, and twice walked the runway at New York Fashion Week (most recently this spring),she came into the spotlight as an international sensation, known as "bionic woman."
Outside of catwalks and photo shoots, she raises awareness about people with special needs, while also prompting us to reconsider beauty through her very own appearance.
What was your childhood like, and how did you accept the fact that you were different than other kids?
As a child, you're almost unaware about being special. The most difficult were the teenage years. I would often hide my hand, tucking it into the pockets of my jacket, or I would turn my body in a way to mask it. Believe it or not, I actually hated being photographed then. I never liked any of my photos, but above all I was distressed about not being able to accept myself, to reconcile myself to who I was. I lacked confidence, and my parents feared that I may not know how to integrate into society.
Still, you had a dream of becoming a model?
Yes. Ever since I was little, I loved dressing up, putting on make-up, pretending I was on a photo shoot. But somehow, I never had the courage to give it a go. The very first time I ventured into the modelling world was when I was twenty-two. That is when I finally realized who I was, what my goals were. Finally, I believed that I could achieve them.
Meanwhile, you also became the face of Touch Bionics, which was the first in the world to produce a multi-articulated bionic hand with an i-limb quantum, their most advanced product. Soon it will be a year since you started using it. How did that change your life?
Can you image not being able to stir your yogurt, while also holding it? Or tie your shoelaces? Probably not. That was a part of my everyday life. I was not able to do things that other people take for granted. Well, now I can. The hand is equipped with an advanced "arm dynamics" technology, which allows me to use the fingers, all of them simultaneously to grab a bottle, or one by one, the thumb and index finger, to pick up something smaller.
At New York Fashion Week in March, you walked down the runway together with Gianna Schiavone, a girl all of six years old, who was also born without her left forearm. What did that feel like?
Doing the catwalk with her was a true blessing. She's brimming with life, she walked with pride, confidence. Our appearance together symbolizes a bright future for the fashion industry. Gianna is the future! That was a great moment for both of us.
How do people react, when they see you with a bionic hand?
The hand is certainly a good stimulant, as far as communication goes. [laughter] People tend to stare at first, but once they show their interest, it's always fun to demonstrate the way my hand functions. They're impressed by unfamiliar technology.
Is there anything out there you wish you could do, but you can't?
I'm very grateful. This hand basically lets me do pretty much everything. I can't climb every wall or obstacle, but I also have no desire to do so. People are not grateful and appreciative of their bodies enough, not until they face disability.
You participate in the project by Lucky Fin, a non-profit, which gives support to individuals with upper limb differences.
That's correct. Being a model is what I like, it makes me happy, but to mentor a child is so much more fulfilling. As a kid, I had no one to ask about how to tie my hair or polish my nails, so I am that much happier to be able to do a good deed. I help children boost their confidence, so they can better handle the bumps in the road I experienced as a teenager. It wasn't easy, and I needed time, but now I believe in myself, and I wish every kid can realize just how precious they are.
"People are not grateful and appreciative of their bodies enough, not until they face disability."
How does the bionic hand i-limb quantum work?
A myoelectric prosthetic hand, the so-called i-limb quantum, enables switching between different types of grips (a hand shake, for instance) with a simple gesture. Using gesture control, Rebekah can perform four grips by moving her hand forward, backward, left and right. With the help of a mobile app control, available for Apple Watch, the user is guaranteed quick access to four pre-programmed grips; four others can be found in the watch. Together, Quantum provides 24 various pre-programmed grips patterns (users can customize an additional 12) that are controlled by gestures, muscle impulses (which manipulate the hand by moving its fingers), a mobile app or with the help of Bluetooth chips. The chips initiate a pre-programmed reaction in Quantum, which can assume the position for typing when approaching a computer, or switch to a grip for plate handling in the kitchen. Each finger is capable of different grip strengths, and there is an automatic function that prevents objects from slipping. Quantum's battery is charged in three hours, and lasts one to two days.