- January 24, 2012
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“You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.“ – Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius is the world record-holder in the 100- 200- and 400-meter running events. He’s also one of the more well-known athletes that uses prosthetics. Known as the “Blade Runner” and “the fastest man on no legs”, Pistorius has a double amputation of both legs beneath the knee. For a well-written and multi-faceted view into his life, read The Fast Life of Oscar Pistorius, a recent feature in The New York Time Magazine.
In 2008 he was banned from competing with able-bodied runners, because his prosthetic legs were deemed to give him an unfair advantage. After appeals, the decision was reversed. He’s a hopeful for the 2012 Olympics in London. And while that’s a simplification of his story, the NYT Magazine frames his story in this way:
“His story raises all kinds of philosophical questions having to do with how we come into this world — our mix of advantages and disadvantages based on where we are born and what set of physical, mental and emotional resources we are endowed with.“
(The New York Times Magazine article is a fantastic read—we highly recommend it.)
Prosthetics and the Developing World
This “mix of advantages and disadvantages … we are endowed with” is especially relevant when considering the number of amputees in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization:
- 80% of amputees live in the developing world, and just 2% of these amputees have access to healthcare and rehabilitation services
- An estimated 30 million people need prosthetic and orthotic devices in Africa, Asia, and Latin America
Causes of amputation vary throughout the world; people may have lost mobility through war, land mines, birth defects, diseases or natural disasters. Many amputees are unable to return their daily lives unless and until they have a prosthetic and or rehabilitation.
IPT and Prosthetics Outreach Foundation are two innovative nonprofits working to diminish these dismal numbers.
Illini Prosthetic Technologies, or IPT, has developed and produced a low-cost prosthetic arm for below-elbow amputees.
The team of 6 met during college, and founded IPT in 2008. And while they are a fairly young organization, they are raising funds and making progress. They recently completed field testing in Guatemala, and are continuing to hone their prosthetic solution. They work with local aid organizations to purchase, distribute, and fit amputees.
The IPT team describes their technology as “off the shelf”. “This means that an IPT prosthetic arm does not need to be custom-made for each patient. You simply take an arm off the shelf and fit it onto a patient within minutes.” This off the shelf approach, which is novel in the below-elbo limb replacement market, will no doubt allow them to help a large number of amputees.
Prosthetics Outreach Foundation (POF) is a 20-year-old organization that works to improve the mobility and independence of physically disabled children and adults in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Haiti and Liberia. POF has helped more than 18,000 children and adults walk again.
An amazing part of POF’s work is training technicians in-country to make prosthetic limbs with local materials—making the goal of providing replacement limbs to more people a reality.
So, when Oscar Pistorius says ”You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have“, these words ring increasingly true for amputees when they have access to affordable and easy-to-access prosthetics. IPT and POF are pushing forward prosthetics innovation to move the focus away from disability and toward ability.