The Etiquette of Interacting with Individuals with Amputations
Individuals with limb differences or amputations are often overlooked in our society today. While some choose to use a prosthetic, others don’t. Every experience is unique, from people who have had their limb differences since birth, to others who have had a limb amputation due to accident, injury, or disease.
In the US alone, nearly 2 million people are part of the category of individuals with a limb difference. Every year, another 185,000 people undergo amputation surgery. Below knee amputations are the most common with an expected increase of 47% by 2020. In fact, statisticians believe that the population of people living with amputations in America will more than double to 3.6 million by 2050.
Learning how to interact with these individuals in a society that doesn’t always understand limb difference can be difficult, but it is worth the effort to create a more inclusive culture. Here are a few ways that all of us can improve our interactions with people who identify as amputees.
1. Don’t Make Assumptions
Since every experience is different, it’s important not to assume. Some individuals with amputations have never experienced life with a full arm or leg, while others lost a part or whole limb later in life. Never assume you know what life is like for those with limb differences.
2. Amputation Can Be a Good Thing
While some people have no choice in the loss of their limb, others choose an elective amputation that often improves their quality of life. Some individuals suffer an injury with many reconstructive surgeries that never completely remove chronic pain. In the end, an elective amputation provides them with a pain-free life and allows them to begin pursuing their hobbies, careers, and lives again.
3. Listen and Ask
Words are powerful. People with limb differences tend to use different language to describe themselves and their bodies. While some may be fine using the word “disabled” or “amputation,” others may not be. No matter the reason, it’s important to listen to how they speak about themselves, to ask what they prefer, and to respect and use their language choices.
4. Frame Your Questions Wisely
It’s normal to be curious, but amputees receive a lot of insensitive questions that could have been searched on the internet rather than directed to a person. Steer clear of asking “what happened?” because that can trigger a lot of emotions. It can be respectful to ask how a prosthetic works, as long as you do it in a genuine and respectful way. Just remember that individuals with amputations are people, not curiosities.
5. Prosthetic Limbs are Unique
Prosthetic companies work hard to tailor every prosthetic limb to ensure that the limb fits as well as it can. The craftsmanship includes a process, starting at a plaster mold and ending with a high-tech piece of equipment that allows people to better interact with the world. Individuals with lower limb amputations often have a couple of different types of limbs for various activities, from everyday use to exercising.
6. Laughter is the Best Medicine
If an amputee makes a joke referring to their limb difference and they’re laughing, you are free to laugh too! Laughter is a powerful tool for connection and coping, and can be cathartic for people with amputations. Don’t be afraid to laugh at their amputation jokes because, let’s face it, sometimes life can be funny.
7. Make Life Accessible
People with limb differences struggle with a world that is not designed for them. While some use prosthetics, others depend on mobility devices such as wheelchairs or scooters. In many cases, society is unable to recognize when something is not accessible. Sometimes there are no ramps or automatic doors that have accessible buttons for someone in a wheelchair. Fixing these issues can make events, venues, malls, and buildings easier to navigate for everyone.
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