Activist with paralyzed arms types with her feet, makes accessible designs: 'I'm just hacking my life'

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
(Photo: Emily Soto for Yahoo Lifestyle)

Accessible Beauty is a mini-series of profiles that Yahoo Lifestyle is running in the week of Dec. 3 in the spirit of the United Nations’ International Day of Persons With Disabilities. The series focuses on six empowering individuals, and today we feature one of them, Christina Mallon, 29, an ad agency designer and head of digital marketing for Open Style Lab. She developed motor neuron disease resulting from a car accident at age 22, which left both of her arms paralyzed.

How she’s reshaped the world around her: Overall, this world is what makes me disabled. At the end of the day, nothing is set up for a person with a disability — it’s not part of the design process, so really, I’m just hacking my life. I live alone, I work full-time, I have a wonderful group of friends and a great social life, and I think it’s making sure that I choose jobs and surround myself with people who are open and willing to help. … I type [on my phone] with my feet. I don’t wear tights. We created socks that work with touchscreens, using a different type of thread, and that was in collaboration with Grace Jun and Open Style Lab [at the Parsons School of Design]. Anyone can sew conductive thread into a sock; that’s really all it is. You just have to have people willing to take on the design challenge.

What makes her feel beautiful: I think when someone tells me that something I did has affected their life in a positive way, at the end of the day, it gives me purpose and makes me feel beautiful.

On facing stigmas: A lot of time people will think I’m Christina, disabled Christina, that’s all I am. So I have to fight to show I can be a mother, a friend … I fight that every single day. But I have to be OK with it and ready to take on the world so girls who are younger with disabilities have a role model to look up to. And that’s what gets me through my day.

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