I have noticed a disturbing trend. My first exposure was during Oscar's run during the Olympics, but the fury quickly died down so I didn't feel compelled to address it. After the Boston Bombings the issue has resurfaced, and I have encountered it numerous times during the past few weeks. At this time, I can no longer remain silent.
When I read
the first newspaper article, which touted the wonders of prosthetic
technology and referenced the "superhuman" that was being created, I
chuckled. After all, I rely upon my bionic prosthesis on a daily basis.
While I appreciate the technological innovations, it does not come close
to recreating the biological limb. I chalked up the references to a
sensationalistic desire to sell papers and didn't think much of it.
I read an interview with Hugh Herr, a gifted prosthetic designer and
engineer who has created bionic devices which have revolutionized
prosthetic technology. In the article he repeatedly stated that
technology is advancing to the point of creating "envy" within the four
limbed population. Until they can create a prosthesis that will clean my
house, do my laundry and cook dinner for me, I assure you that my
friends will not envy my limb loss! I was honestly shocked that such an
intelligent individual could make such an insulting and downright
Earlier this week I read an article which
was titled "The future of
robotics: in a transhuman world, the disabled will be the ones without
prosthetic limbs." As somebody who is reliant upon this technology, I
find that inference insulting on a variety of levels! Apparently the
cyborg mystique has taken hold, and it is time to provide some facts.
After all, I would hate to think that my friends would become so envious
of my ability to utilize this Superman-like technology that they would
actually cut off their leg. (Yes, I am being sarcastic.)
developed the PowerFoot, which is a marvel of technology. This
prosthetic ankle and foot system is the only foot that replicates the
calf muscle, providing the wearer with a small surge of power with each
step. I've walked this foot and I was impressed. But I'm more impressed
with my biological foot.
I realize that Herr is now a salesperson
trying to sell his invention, but his facts are wrong. His foot is
reliant upon batteries, which are heavy and drain quickly, requiring the
wearer to always carry a spare or risk losing the bionic benefits.
There is nothing "superhuman" about the constant need of the bionic
amputee to monitor their battery usage throughout the day. Should the
battery completely drain (imagine loss of power), the prosthetic is
relegated to the function of a heavy brick. The biological foot, with
its readily accessible power source, wins this comparison.
prosthetic wearers can't dance in the rain, jump in puddles or go
wading for tadpoles. The technology is good, but it has to be kept dry
and clean. I am no expert, but I don't remember seeing Iron Man having
to don a DryPro liner before getting wet! Again, the biological foot
with it's utilitarian skin covering wins.
prosthetics require the user to master a variety of triggers in order to
reap all of their benefits. When I want to walk up the stairs, my brain
quickly tells my leg to lift and move. The bionic knee user must lift,
dangle and tap their prosthetic foot in order to trigger stair mode. If
any of those triggers are not done perfectly, the knee does not respond
as expected. You aren't exactly leaping up the stairs like the Man of
Steel when you are stuck at the landing trying to trigger the sweet spot
so that the device works!
I realize that drawing superhero
comparisons when discussing bionic prosthetics is a "sexy" angle. As an
amputee, I find it degrading and insulting. The struggles, both
financial and physical, that are hand in hand with bionic devices are
swept under the rug and ignored. While the bionic devices are an
improvement, they are heavy, expensive, break down and do not replicate
the human body. Creating the mystique that amputees are "lucky" because
they are missing a limb borders on the absurd.