Jo Beth

Jo Beth at our 2002 conference in New Orleans

Jo Beth was born 67 years ago without arms into a family with no history of birth defects and raised in rural Florida. She learned to use her feet as most people use their hands. She attended public schools without any special treatment, other than a low-topped desk made by a friend’s father; she was just another kid.

About age 12, she was given a prosthetic right arm. She found it to be uncomfortable and useless, so quickly discarded it.

As a teen, she learned to drive, sitting on pillows to see over the dashboard and working the steering wheel with her left foot and the pedals with her right. Jo Beth now drives less often and less far than she used to. She blames it on the high cost of gasoline, but acknowledges that extended sitting makes her back ache.

She writes in a neat cursive, holding a pen between the big toe and second toe of her right foot. Her toes ably clutch utensils, wield a toothbrush and apply lipstick, and she uses her feet to type on a keyboard and work the roller ball mouse of a computer.  Jo Beth generally uses her left foot for actions above her waist (eating, applying makeup, brushing her teeth) and her right for those below it. Her big toes move almost as dexterously as other people’s thumbs. She also uses stools in the kitchen and bedroom to assist her.

She usually wears a short-sleeved dress with a full skirt; a comfortable outfit that allows  her to dress herself.  She accessorizes with a ring on the second toe of her left foot and maybe a thin bracelet on her right ankle. She has a little hand on her right shoulder where she wears a little double bracelet made from an anklet.

Early in adulthood, she met Marty, a man who was also born without arms. Within two weeks of meeting, they were married. The couple had two children before eventually divorcing.

When you don’t have arms, life is a constant balancing act. Throughout her life she has balanced the determination to do everything possible for herself with the knowledge that her anatomy imposes certain limitations. For example, she drives herself to the gas station or grocery store, operating her Toyota Sienna with her feet, and then depends upon someone else to pump the gas or pluck products off shelves.

Jo Beth has held several office jobs, including a long stretch as a clerk for a job-training agency. When she was between jobs after her employer folded, her daughter, a nurse, convinced her that returning to full-time work would be too hard on her. For the past four years, Jo Beth has kept busy baby-sitting in her apartment for a friend, whose two boys are now 4 and 2. The friend works a job with irregular hours and, on the days she works, she drops the kids off with Jo Beth before their breakfast and sometimes doesn’t pick them up until late in the day. Jo Beth has become “a third grandmother” to the boys.

All of that use of her feet takes its toll on Jo Beth’s back. She is plagued by severe scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, as well as arthritis in her lower spine. Jo Beth understands her need to curtail her activities. She now accepts weekly visits from an assistant who helps with cleaning and shopping. Jo Beth has slowed down, but she is still very active and plans to continue to be so.

Based on the article: Life in Balance Lakeland Woman Uses Her Feet Like Most People Use Their Hands By Gary White THE LEDGER Published: Sunday, July 6, 2008.