He participates in ‘Je Sal Hed Mar’ and greets people with his feet, typing with his toes as fast as you and I do with our fingers. We’re talking about 29-year-old Tilburger Emil von Engelen. He was born without arms. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic and feels like the king of Tilburg as he looks out over the city from his studio. We ask (0)13 questions to this special Tilburger!
#1: You were born without arms, how?
“Yes, I was born without arms 29 years ago. My parents didn’t know I would be armless until I was born. The ultrasound they got didn’t show anything crazy, and later the doctors said they should have seen it. But this is very rare, so I understand that they do not take it into account. Doctors explained it in a simple way: in the first six weeks of pregnancy your arms and legs came out of the egg, with me it was only my legs. But I think it’s a test of nature.”
“My parents decided to try a ‘normal’ life, so I went to a normal primary and secondary school. If things didn’t go well, I could always go to an accompanying school, but I got along well. I’m so glad my parents handled it this way, because now I can Life is as normal as possible.
#2: Are people born without arms in the Netherlands?
“There are five people like me in the Netherlands. Of course you have people born with arms, but that means they don’t have arms now. But actually only five people like me were born without arms. I also talk to them sometimes and you notice that we all have the same attitude towards life.
#3: How Limited Are You Really?
“From the point of view of others, a life without the poor is a very severe limitation, but I have never experienced it. Everyone has their limits in life, and these are my thresholds. Although many people certainly think this, I do not really feel limited. Everyone thinks to themselves: ‘Now what am I if I don’t have weapons?’ Change will come’, but that’s wrong thinking, because I don’t know any better. I hope my immediate environment doesn’t see me as limited or ‘that boy with no arms’, but simply as Emil. I need help with some things, but if someone needs help, I will. That’s what friends are for. There is also family.
“I always call it a limitation, because a cripple seems very difficult to me. You know, at home I’m not limited. I can hold and open anything with my feet and toes. But when I walk down the street with my shoes on, you’re much more than someone who has hands. Limited.I generally feel like my peers, I can text with my toes, and I love sports, and I’m the best in our group of friends.
#4: So you live on your own?
“Yes, I live alone in my own little studio. I work full-time as an administrative assistant at DESTIL, a Tilburg company. I started as an intern and stayed there. All the steps I have taken in life, I have taken by myself. Without help from UWV, benefits or whatever. And I am very proud. Like everyone else I had to work really hard for it. But with a disability you may have to go the extra mile to achieve things that are more mundane for disabled people. At the company I work for now, they were skeptical when they first saw me. It’s logical, you’re already 1-0 down. Now they don’t know better, they are very happy with me. I can operate a computer with my feet and am almost as fast as someone with hands.
#5: How do you most like to be treated by people?
“I want to be treated the same way everyone treats each other. People are quick to do everything for you, but if I really need help, I’ll ask for it myself. You learn to stand up for yourself if you don’t have arms. But it made me a stronger person. I know I’m often seen on the street, and that makes sense. On the contrary, I also see someone with something striking. It’s really annoying when people start staring or pointing at me.
#6: You’ve also given several guest lectures at elementary schools, do you want to do that more often?
“To answer this question, we have to go back a little further. I always lived in my own bubble, which was fine with me. Until more and more people told me I should do more of it. Then in 2019, I was on ‘You Get It.’ I have received a lot of positive reactions. After that I was often approached by people who wanted to write something about me, but I make sure I don’t become a caricature. After that, I started doing guest lectures with children who have learning difficulties in primary school. It gave me a lot of satisfaction, so I definitely want to do it more often.
#7: Do you think your life would be different if you had weapons?
“Yeah right. But not in general, because with arms I’ll get a job and live on my own. I’m also pretty lazy, so if I was born with arms I might be even lazier. Now I guess I still have to prove myself. Maybe that’s a good thing, haha.”
#8: Are there any advantages to not having weapons?
“Yeah, I think so. I’ve been in places I wouldn’t go with weapons, on TV for example. Look, you stand out a little bit more compared to other people. It can be a positive or a negative.”
#9: Is Tilburg a disabled friendly city?
“Of course I think a lot of people already know me. When I go somewhere alone, I know I can always ask people for help. Tilburgers are also ready for each other. I once went home drunk and ran into a friend who helped me. Then I asked if everything was okay. Someone stopped the scooter to look. I think that’s neat because I was robbed for the same money.”
#10: You also play football, what’s that like for someone born without arms?
“I like it a lot. I’ve always played football, but when I was eighteen I had back surgery and I couldn’t play football for two years. The club asked me if I wanted to coach a team. I thought it would be fun, that way you could be with the club. You’re a little connected. You work with the kids and they’re good, it was great to see. I had a special bond with the team and I promised them I’d play football with them when they got older. At the beginning it was exciting because you’ve always been a coach and now you’re suddenly a teammate. .I was also excited in the dressing room, because when you’re about eighteen or nineteen it’s often taboo to help another man naked. Fortunately, it came very naturally.
#11: Friends call you Casanova, how did you get that nickname?
“I always keep my word ready. I like to talk to girls and if you don’t have hands it’s usually a good snowball. Nine times out of ten a girl comes to me because I have something special. So I don’t have to try too hard, haha.”
#12: You travel a lot too, where have you all been?
“Ah, I went to America with my cousin. I have been traveling to Iceland with a partner for the past year and have been to New Zealand once. In high school I followed an exchange program in Denmark. This year I am going back to New Zealand. I always tell myself that I don’t want to be limited by my limitations. So I mostly enjoy life.
#13: Do you have a life motto?
“Yes, my mother always said, ‘Society doesn’t adapt to you, but you have to adapt to society. And that’s how I live my life. You should live as normal a life as possible and do the things you love.
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