Currently completing his Ph.D. while working for Portland Opera and designing a show of his own, Ty Chiko is as ambitious as he is creative. Deeply passionate about the arts, Ty is a visual artist, an established opera singer, and even plays several instruments, including piano and guitar. He is also a congenital below-knee amputee with a heart for youth with limb loss and limb difference.
Growing up in the Bahamas, Ty recalls being the only person in his neighborhood who experienced limb loss or limb difference, so he never had anyone to relate to that piece of his identity. It was only after completing his master’s degree at the University of New Mexico that Ty discovered a pathway to connect with youth and others with similar lived experiences through the Amputee Coalition. “I was looking for a place to volunteer and I knew I wanted to do more with advocacy,” Ty said. “I found the Amputee Coalition online and watched a YouTube video. It just seemed to be such an attractive, fun group of people living their truth and authentic selves as a community.” Immediately Ty jumped at the opportunity to get involved and became a camp counselor in the summer of 2016.
Aside from having fun (known as the guy who brought the energy and hype!), Ty knew he was forming essential bonds with the campers and recognized the value these positive experiences would have on their adult lives. “I’ve become connected to young people because I have a lot of young nieces and cousins that I helped to raise,” Ty shared. “Creating space for them to be 100% themselves on a day-to-day also made me very passionate about showing up for youth with limb loss and limb difference because I know how challenging that can be, obviously from personal experience.”
He continued volunteering every summer with the youth camp until the pandemic in 2020. “My favorite memory will always be cabin time when we got to sit down and really got to know one another and our campers,” Ty said. “Having moments to play cards and talk about life and being an amputee with the middle school group will always be special.” He even corresponded back and forth in letters with camper pen pals one year.
Since then, although Ty has a packed schedule, he is still very much committed to finding ways to help youth with limb loss and limb difference and spread awareness. He initially launched a podcast called This Abled Body during the pandemic with the mission of empowering kids living with limb loss and limb difference to live their best lives while providing helpful tips for parents. The first episode gives tips for kids and parents about what to do when they meet someone living with a limb difference.
A creative and an entrepreneur at heart, Ty’s vision for this endeavor has since evolved, and he has plans to take it in a new direction after graduation. “I would like to be able to work on the business of a podcast,” Ty said. “Maybe it will become a visual podcast or even a publication like a magazine or journal highlighting the achievements of youth living with limb loss and limb difference. I want it to help a kid find hope and create something that they can listen to or read for enjoyment.”
Embracing his identity as an amputee, Ty loves serving as almost a big brother figure for youth as they navigate the same challenges he experienced growing up. “Working with youth taught me that every life, from the youngest person to the oldest has extreme value. And if that’s the case, then we need to make sure that every life has access to everything,” Ty said. “It also taught me, as a person living with limb loss and limb difference, that I deserve to be in all the spaces. As a performer, I’m on the stage and for other people to see that it’s possible is important.” Living outside of the boxes society has tried to put him in, Ty is giving others the courage to not limit themselves by what others say is possible.
Stay up to date with Ty and his latest projects at www.tychiko.com.