Jason Koger, Skills for Life workshop attendee and Arm Dynamics patient

Did you know that there’s a three-day long workshop every three years that brings together people with bilateral upper limb or quadruple limb differences? Did you know there’s a non-profit organization that not only provides scholarships for individuals to attend that workshop, but also offers webinars, resources, newsletters, and opportunities to attend adapted bowling tournaments?

The Skills for Life workshop and the non-profit Enhancing Skills for Life provide people with bilateral upper limb or quadruple limb differences a safe space to socialize, be active, learn from others and feel supported.

While the Skills for Life workshop was first started in 2002, the non-profit was founded in 2017 by Shawn Johnson. We spoke with Shawn to learn more about this organization and her involvement. “I attended that first event and it was life-changing for me. I was a newer occupational therapist, and I was witnessing this group of individuals who have such unique challenges and they’re able to do such a wide range of tasks.” Shawn didn’t know it at the time, but “This event had a huge impact on the direction of my career.” After volunteering and pushing to help the event take place every few years, Shawn decided to become more firmly involved: “The idea of a nonprofit had been discussed by others before, but it never happened. I have zero background in the non-profit world, but I got tired of hearing myself talk about it. I wanted to ensure the events would continue and scholarships would be provided, so I decided it was up to me.”

We also spoke with two of our Arm Dynamics team members about their impressions of the Skills for Life workshops they have attended. One of our clinical therapy specialists, Jennifer Peterson, had this to say: “It is a very unique conference because the participants as well as the speakers are a mix of bilateral amputees (and some with quad amputations), caregivers, and healthcare professionals who treat bilateral amputees. I have never been to another conference which has such great interaction between patients and medical professionals. I believe that the healthcare professionals learn just as much from the patients as vice versa, and it is amazing to see the patients interacting with and learning from each other. The environment of the Skills for Life Workshop is very supportive. There is learning and socializing going on, and it is fun to see friendships developing from shared experiences. I do believe that, for many, it is a life-changing event.”

Our Patient Relationship Manager Travis Stubbs attended the most recent conference in 2022. “The event is the kind of place where if you have all four limbs, you are the outlier. I remember the feeling of walking in the door on my first day there and thinking, wow, I am not the norm here.' It’s such an amazing environment for people to ask questions and essentially learn how to do just about anything that you want any question that you have can be answered. It's a giant think tank. One of the best things is that multiple times each day, there are breakout groups that discuss solutions to challenges, give advice, or just support each other as peers.

Shawn has seen first-hand what that kind of support can do. “We had a group of women at one of our workshops a few years back who had congenital bilateral upper limb differences and did tasks with their toes/feet. And they spent a lot of time with parents who had brought their children with congenital bilateral upper limb differences. Just seeing what these women were capable of and how they go about their lives made a great impact on these parents, helping them to see what their children’s futures could look like.”

The next workshop is scheduled for October of 2025 in Houston, but you don’t have to wait to participate in an Enhancing Skills for Life event, or even travel! They are involved in bowling tournaments that provide fundraising for the scholarships needed for the conference, monthly webinars, and other opportunities to get involved. Some of their recorded webinars are available on YouTube. You can also see what the workshop looks like in this video made at the 2018 event

“These type of events and peer support can be a huge motivator for anyone feeling stuck after bilateral upper limb loss,” Shawn told us. “Seeing someone else who has a similar limb difference as you who is a little farther along in their journey, doing things that you didn’t know were possible, can really get people on the path to achieving their independence goals.”

If you’d like to learn more about Enhancing Skills for Life, please visit their website

If you or someone you know is new to the world of bilateral upper limb differences and would like to learn more about prosthetic options, please contact us to set up a consultation with our Arm Dynamics clinical team. Thank you so much to Shawn for speaking with us about this important organization.


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