Life Without Artificial Limbs

Life Without Artificial Limbs

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Life without Artificial Limbs
by Jan Garrett, JD

Those of you who read InMotion on a regular basis know that its orientation has been toward recent amputees with an acquired limb loss. Consequently, the magazine’s articles and advertising tend to focus on artificial limbs and related products. As someone with a congenital absence of all four limbs, however, I am interested in articles and advertising that address alternatives to conventional limb prostheses. Fortunately, the leadership of ACA recognizes that many readers could benefit from new ideas and products outside the realm of conventional limb prostheses hence the idea for this column.

Each month, I plan to explore non-prosthetic devices, adaptive technology and other solutions for independent living and how they can be used effectively.

To understand my preferences for adaptive equipment, it is important to know a bit about me. I have no arms below the shoulders, and no legs below approximately mid-thigh (my left leg being twice the length of my right). Although I am frequently asked if my limb loss was caused by my mother’s ingestion of thalidomide, the answer is thalidomide is the only thing we know wasn’t the cause. For me, the cause of my disability is not important. My disability is part of who I am as a person just as much as having green eyes and a gregarious personality. Like other people with disabilities, I do experience frustration at times when I cannot accomplish a task quickly and easily. I have come to realize, however, that the frustration is generated by a world that was not made for people with my physical characteristics. The more I adapt my world to fit my needs, the happier and more independent I become.

When I was growing up, independence meant the use of artificial limbs. Until I was thirteen, I used both arm and leg prostheses (actually, I continued to use the leg prostheses until just a few years ago). But both my mom and my maternal grandfather saw that “low-tech” adaptive equipment worked for me as well. My mom cut and stitched my pant legs closed so that I could move around without getting dirty (an adaptation I still use). My grandfather made crayon holders out of used roman candle fireworks tubes and rubber bands. Whatever works!

In addition to providing adaptive equipment, my family has always shown tremendous support for me and my life goals. I grew up in Oklahoma City, the youngest of four children. Although my parents had to make some accommodations for my disability, they always expected me to achieve, both personally and academically. After college, I attended law school and now practice disability civil rights law with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley, California. More importantly, my parents, grandparents and siblings taught me about love and being happy with myself. As a result, I am married to a fabulous guy named Dan, with whom I share a life of love and humor (he calls me short, but I prefer “vertically challenged”).

Now that you know a little about who I am and how I tend to approach independent living, I want to explore your ideas and encourage you to think creatively. This column will be much more interesting if it can share independent living solutions from many sources. The solutions appropriate for me might be largely useless to someone with a unilateral upper extremity amputation; however, we know that there have been thousands of clever adaptions made by the hundreds of thousands of amputees in the U.S. We want to share the knowledge and ideas.

One example of a creative solution is demonstrated by the fact that, in writing this column, I type with a plastic pen on the keyboard of a 486 PC computer. Now that’s low-tech vs. high-tech at its finest!

 Amputee Coalition of America

Copyrighted by the Amputee Coalition of America. Local reproduction for use by ACA constituents is permitted as long as this copyright information is included. Organizations or individuals wishing to reprint this article in other publications, including other World Wide Web sites must contact the Amputee Coalition of America for permission to do so.