Computer-Brain Interfaces

Former Miss America contestant tries out mind-controlled bionic arm

Meghan Holohan
Today

When Nicole Kelly was born without a left forearm, her parents wanted to raise her to feel comfortable just as she was. They told her she could wear a prosthetic arm if she wanted to, but urged her to do what felt right for her.

“My parents were really awesome and a prosthetic arm was always an option. But it was never a forced option,” Kelly, 27, told TODAY. “I feel really lucky to be born into a family that encouraged me to do everything.”

Over the years, Kelly wore different prosthetic arms, but they never felt comfortable or natural. So she most often went without one and taught herself how to do most things with one arm.

“Yes, I have this difference and I do things a little differently, but I am still as able,” Kelly said.

In 2013, she started competing in beauty pageants and became Miss Iowa, which allowed her to compete in the Miss America contest in 2014. She was the second competitor in the pageant’s history to have a disability.

“That was the most attractive thing to me — I can wear a sparkly dress and talk about difference. That is why I did it,” she said.

Following Miss America, Kelly transitioned into public speaking and attended journalism school to get a master’s degree in broadcasting. On social media, she shares videos highlighting her life, showing how she curls her hair one handed, for example. Lately, the videos show Kelly trying something new — learning to use a sleek prosthetic arm.

“It is a big scary change,” she said.

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Image:  For most of her life, 27-year-old Nicole Kelly didn’t wear a prosthetic arm. She’s now using a system that allows her to control her arm with her thoughts.

Courtesy AJ Abelman Photography

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