One of the most common questions I am asked regarding my prosthetic arm is some variation of the following: “Why don’t you have one of those cool robot hands I saw on TV?”
My standard answer is to talk about how prosthetics are expensive and often not covered by insurance. This explanation usually makes sense to people, but I can’t help but feel that I’m letting them down. After all, the basic design for my prosthesis was developed in 1812. The materials have changed for the better; they are lighter and cheaper. But I still look like I belong on a pirate ship with my body-powered, hook-shaped prosthesis.
I bring this up now because we are in the middle of Disability History Month (at least we would be if we were in the UK), and it seemed like a good time to link to this article from How Stuff Works: How Prosthetic Limbs Work. It is a fantastic article that covers a lot of the points I usually make, like how expensive this stuff is, how they haven’t changed that much, and how they don’t last a lifetime. People don’t usually think about these things. They just think about the cool documentary they watched about the cutting edge stuff. A kid might think of a book they read like Amazing Feats of Biological Engineering, which makes it seem like bionics are more here and now than they are.* Or they think: We live in the twenty-first century; Robot arms should be a reality by now.
It does seem like we’re getting closer to that reality. 3-d printing offers some really interesting options for prosthetics, and organizations like E-Nable are trying to connect people who could benefit from the technology to the people who know how to use it. I am excited to see where this will lead. Perhaps sometime soon my old pirate arm will be a thing of the past.
Until then, it would be cool to see a documentary or read a book about the prosthetic devices that people are actually using right now. Even if they do seem like they are from another era.
More questions about my prosthetic arm answered here.
* Nothing against the book. It’s actually pretty cool to see prosthetics addressed at all, and if it encourages kids to think about this kind of technology, I’m all for it.