By Sonia Kuczaj
It’s all about attitude.
At least for Ryerson student Talli Osborne it is. Her attitude has caught the attention of Jackie Waldman, a regular guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show and author of the bestselling book Courage To Give (Conari Press, 1999).
Looking for a Canadian face to place in her mostly American book Teens with the Courage to Give (Conari Press, 2000), Waldman contacted the Peel Regional School Board. That’s when she was told about Osborne’s remarkable story.
Born with no arms and only half of each leg, 20-year-old Osborne, a second-year social work student, has never allowed her physical challenge to stop her from leading a so-called normal life.
“Growing up my parents told you’re different,” Osborne said, “but you can do anything you want.”
Immediately, Waldman knew she had to have the young Canadian in her book.
“What you believe in is what you see around you,” Waldman said in a phone interview. “Talli sees the positive everywhere she turns. She is proof that if you see the positive, you’ll find it.”
Osborne grew up in an extraordinary household filled with the hustle and bustle 19 adopted brothers and sisters—9 girls and 10 boys. Growing up in a large family, Osborne had no problem adjusting to life in Pitman Hall.
While the other frosh were complaining about the food, Osborne had what she calls the best year of her life, so far. This year she’s living at the ILLC, where she finally gets her own room, bathroom and the added luxury of a queen-sized bed.
“This is the first time that I’ll be living completely on my own,” Osborne said, while giving a tour of her new pad.
Although Osborne has the mio-electric arms, she never uses them. She ahs learned to write, dress, feed herself, and shave her legs without them.
To look taller, Osborne also has prosthetic legs, but she doesn’t need them to talk. She prefers jetting around in the “Talli-Mobile,” her battery-operated scooter plastered with stickers or punk rock bands such as NOFX.
Otherwise Osborne is completely independent, with one exception: her laundress and best friend, Sham Hishmeh. Like Osborne, Hishmeh is a 20-year-old social work student.
“When I first met Talli, I thought she was really cool,” Hishmeh said. “She had blue hair, piercings and cool clothes. Talli amazes me. She can do everything, even type faster than me.”
It isn’t just Osborne’s love for the Pickle Barrel or Thursday nights at the Fuel Station that makes Hishmeh value her friendship.
“She’s always high and full of energy and she has the best sense of humour,” Hishmeh said. “She parties more than the rest of us.”
If she could change one thing, Osborne would make public buildings more accessible for those with physical challenges.
But accessibility has not kept Osborne from doing the stuff she loves. As for people staring at her, Osborne understands their curiosity but is less tolerant of their ignorance and insensitivity.
What really gets under her skin is when people blatantly point at her as though she isn’t there.
Since being profiled in Waldman’s book, more people are staring at Osborne—not because of her physical challenge, but because they recognize her from the 30 different television and newspaper profiles.
“Young people now come up to me and tell me what I’m their inspiration.”
Osborne volunteers as a junior counsellor at CHAMPS, where she hopes to share her lust for life with younger children.
“I want the kids to see that I’m happy, that I go to school and that I have a positive outlook,” Osborne said.
She also volunteers at JumpStart, where she helps teach young children life-changing skills. After graduation, she wants to help children who are coping with mental illness.
“I have met people with fewer disabilities than me, and they let their disabilities consume their lives,” she said.
“I want to tell them, ‘You know what? Live with it.’”