Nicole Kelly is a stunning force to be reckoned with. She doesn’t have a left arm, but this didn’t overshadow her dreams — and she’s done a lot.

She’s Miss Iowa 2013 and one of the only women to compete in Miss America with a physical disability. She’s an advocate for people living with a disability. And more recently, she’s become a viral Reddit sensation for popping a beer open with her new bionic arm.

Her face is intense and focused, showing us just how much work it can take for the brain to send the proper signals to the bionic arm. These are the first days of the rest of her bionic life. And she’s allowing us to witness it — both her insecurities and her victories.

Do you hold the knife or the onion with the bionic hand?

“Imagine living 27 years with one hand and now trying to learn to do things with two,” Kelly tells Healthline. “I’m still trying to get the hand to close the right amount, to hold things depending on shape and size. It’s all experimenting and learning.”

bionic arm miss iowa
Photo credit: AJ Abelman Photography, Inc

Kelly is also an ambassador for Coapt, a company that creates revolutionary bionic limbs. Her current bionic arm is from Coapt, too.

On her Instagram, Kelly says, “I was fitted for the coolest, most advanced robotic technology on the market. There are sensors which are programmed to read my muscle movements; there are lightweight batteries to last all day. It is now my job to learn how to live life with a bionic hand.”

The results are stunning, real, and triumphant

“It’s not a publicity stunt,” Kelly repeats to her followers, offering several humorous videos that feature her getting used to her bionic arm. Self-aware and giggle-worthy, Kelly puts a new face to what it’s like living with a disability. In the post below, she poses an excellent question about which hand to use when making dinner.

Today's #Coapt update: Do you hold the knife or the onion with the bionic hand? ...real time experimenting here.

A post shared by Nicole Kelly (@nicolegkelly) on

Another shows her trying to brush her teeth. Trust the bionic arm with the tube, or trust it with the brush itself? she wonders.

And that smile after she pops the beer open? It reads as a mixture of relief and complete, unadulterated joy. The future is bright for those who need a little science to help them.

How does a bionic arm work?

According to Blair Lock, CEO of Coapt, “Nicole’s bionic arm has an electronic ‘brain.’ A system Coapt produces, called Coapt COMPLETE CONTROL, decodes the patterns of muscle electrical activity that Nicole’s arm can produce. The Coapt brain decodes this information in real-time to tell the motors of the arm and hand what to do.”

So when Kelly “wills” her hand to pop the beer open, she’s sending a whole host of brain patterns to the prosthetic, just as your brain sends signals to your fingers, your wrist, your bones.

And unlike previous prosthetic limbs, Coapt’s bionic arm can be recalibrated by the user in one minute (without removal or calling a prosthetist) with the click of a button. It also offers full reign of speed.

nicole bionic arm
Photo credit: AJ Abelman Photography, Inc

Kelly has been an advocate for people with disabilities for a long time. “Growing up, my parents encouraged me to try absolutely everything. But that meant that during my adult life, I really found my disability pride,” she tells us.  

Now, by allowing the world a small peek into the journey of relearning life with her bionic arm, she’s continuing the mission.

“Reminder: Disability is not shameful, so you should always talk about it. Not talking about it makes it something that’s shameful,” Kelly says.

So, let’s take Kelly at her word and embrace our differences. There’s no need to be ashamed of them. Acknowledging them is the beginning of our journey toward betterment and self-discovery. We all deserve the same level of truth and acceptance that Kelly demands.

The world has the space for you.


Allison Krupp

Allison Krupp is an American writer, editor, and ghostwriting novelist. Between wild, multicontinental adventures, she resides in Berlin, Germany. Check out her website here.