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Britt H. Young on learning to navigate the world with the body she has

The graduating Ph.D. candidate in geography spent nearly three decades wearing an arm prosthesis, and decided to take it off at Berkeley

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a person looks at the camera through the sides of her eyes

Britt H. Young is graduating from UC Berkeley with a Ph.D. in geography on May 15. (Photo by Gabriela Hasbun)

At 6 months old, Britt H. Young was fitted with her first prosthetic arm. 

“The belief was that you would get started on using an adaptive device right away and that would be easiest for you, rather than learning to adapt to your body the way that it is, rather than learning about how to navigate the world with the body you have,” says Britt, who is graduating from UC Berkeley with a Ph.D. in geography on May 15.

Born missing part of her left arm, Britt never went to school without wearing her prosthesis. 

“But when I came home, I would take it off immediately,” she says. “And in that way, I was spending countless hours practicing being in my body and learning how to do things my own way.”

During graduate school, after nearly three decades of wearing a prosthesis every day, Britt decided to stop using it for good.

“The geography department at Berkeley, it sounds cliché to say it was a safe space, but it really felt like a welcoming space, and it really felt like a good space to be myself.

“It has been really interesting now going without a prosthesis and experiencing the world in a totally different way and seeing … not just frustrating designs and inaccessible designs and hostile designs for disabled people or just for people with my body geometry, but for anybody.”

After she graduates, Britt will be working on a book about techno-optimism, the pitfalls of so-called human-centered design, prosthetics and the future of the human body.

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