Belgian social media star uses power of visuals to demystify disability

"Being disabled doesn't define a person," says Sarah Talbi, who was born without arms and has become a social media star with her videos on cooking, painting and other activities she is able to do thanks to the extraordinary dexterity of her feet.
Fourty-year-old Sarah Talbi from Belgium attends a conference on the European day of Persons with Disabilities in Brussels (REUTERS)
Fourty-year-old Sarah Talbi from Belgium attends a conference on the European day of Persons with Disabilities in Brussels (REUTERS)

"I wanted to show that there is nothing dramatic about being disabled," says Sarah, who appears in one YouTube video showing her audience how to cook a Maghrebi dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes and peppers, all done with her toes and feet.

"Thanks to the era of social media, we can exploit the power of images," Talbi told Reuters from her home in Belgium's capital, Brussels. "To see people with disabled bodies even 10 years ago would have been almost unthinkable. Today it is much more tolerated and less shocking."

Talbi, 40, was born without upper limbs and grew up learning to use her feet and toes as hands and fingers.

In recent years she has emerged as an influential champion of the disabled, meeting politicians, attending conferences and creating social media content to promote understanding, demystify disability and squash taboos.

Talbi, a single mother of four-year-old Lilia, studied when she was younger to be a translator, but she struggled to find work because of her disability.

"Often we are treated like children," she told a European Day of Persons with Disabilities conference in Brussels last month, where she explained that many people post unpleasant comments and even mock her disability on social media.

She started to draw and paint with her feet and, with support from a teacher, found she had a talent for watercolours, her toes curling as deftly as fingers would around the paintbrush as her other foot holds the paper still.

"I realised that we could always go beyond our limits," she said. "I realised that these limits didn't exist in reality, that they were all in the mind."

REUTERS