Did you know people with artificial legs shouldn’t go hiking?

No, neither did I.

Here’s the relevant quote:

A post on a bushwalking website said none of the men had canoed on the river before and that they had intended to try to complete their journey in two days when it was likely to take a week.

The post, made by a rafting assistant called David, detailed how the group seemed blissfully unaware on Sunday of the journey ahead of them.

One even had an artificial leg, David said.

[my emphasis]

Funny. I thought the whole point of a prosthetic leg was to enable a person who needs it to do pretty much the same range of things as a person who doesn’t have a prosthetic leg. Sometimes, it enables the prosthetic-leg-user to do those things even better than non-prosthetic-leg-users.

But no, not according to David.

Well, you learn something new every day. Or something.


* Thumbnail image is by Tarique Naseem, licensed under a Creative Commons attribution licence. You can find it here.


Categories: social justice

Tags: ,

8 replies

  1. My high school had a lot of disabled students, and a huge Outdoor Education program. The three kids with artificial legs (one of them went on to swim at the Paralympics) all went on the hikes; the two kids missing a hand and one with an artificial arm all went canoeing. Might have been something to do with appropriate preparation rather than their disabilities…

  2. It seems, for a start, none of the other canoers could use their leg as a paddle if it came down to it. :)
    That’s ridiculous. And sad, that this sort of level of attitude is so routine.

  3. lilacsigil: [sarcasm] [engage troll] Well, you’re using anecdotes. Your school should have just locked up all those students and refused to let them participate – it was clearly way too dangerous for them. As those accidents you mentioned show. Wait – you didn’t mention any accidents! Anyway. I prefer to believe David, who obviously has a much broader experience than you. [/sarcasm] [/troll]
    Yes, funny how preparation counts just as much for people who use mobility aids as it does for people who don’t use mobility aids, isn’t it? ;)
    Ariane: LOL – and given how much prep they apparently did, that paddling may have come in mighty handy! (or leggy? ;) )

  4. Thanks for letting me know that disabled people can and can’t do precisely what non-disabled people say they can and can’t do.

  5. In the context of the post, it’s not an unfair remark – individuals with artificial lower limbs have a notably higher net cost of transport and lower preferred walking speed than those with organic limbs, and that’s on level ground. That’s for even the most advanced, $10,000 each powered limbs. An individual with an artificial leg with consume more calories per unit distance, fatigue faster, and have more difficulty on inclines.
    Yes, a prosthetic leg *should* be able to allow a person to do everything an organic-limbed person can. But the technology simply isn’t there yet. The Herr lab at MIT has finally designed a prosthetic lower limb which eliminates the net cost of transport and preferred walking speed issues, but acceleration and positive work (sprinting or climbing a steep incline) are still serious limitations, simply because no motor on earth can match what muscle can do (320 psi, 350 W/kg, 50J/kg, millisecond response time, etc). Pistorius’ races are an excellent example – his prosthetics give him an advantage once he reaches steady speed (dominated by twitch kinetics of proximal muscles), but early in the race he falls *way* behind simply because the prosthetics are purely passive and cannot generate power the way an organic triceps surae can. That’s leaving out the complex ways in which muscles and tendons can interact to produce super-maximal power, which we are only just now understanding in animal systems.
    In the context of the post, which concerns an extremely rigorous hike/trail, the poster is legitimately pointing out that one of the individuals is paying (IIRC) ~1.5x as many calories per kilometer, and using a significantly closer-to-maximal portion of their muscle for any power-generating activity. It’s no different than pointing out “we had to do this ultra-hard hike, but it was in the dry season so we each had to carry 10 gallons of water as well” – it’s a legitimate mechanical issue.
    Yes, it sucks, but until these mechanical issues are solved, an artificial leg *does* confer a noticeable disadvantage on long-distance rough-terrain hiking.

  6. Mokele, I take your point to some extent, but none of that means that someone who uses a prosthetic leg cannot take a hike of the kind these men were on.
    I also disagree with you that it was not unfair in context. I agree that making comments about preparation is fair. I agree that it sounds like these men were not prepared, and that’s really, really silly. But to me, the comment didn’t come across as “they were unprepared, and when someone in the party uses a prosthetic leg, preparation is even more important than usual” (which I agree, would have been fair), but rather, as “they were unprepared and ZOMG one of them even had an artificial leg what the hell was he doing there?”
    Now, maybe it’s just poor expression by the person who made the comment, and maybe he really did mean what you say he meant. We all manage to be unclear sometimes!
    But I happen to think it’s really important to try to be clear, especially when engaging in commentary that has a real potential to be ableist (or sexist or racist or misogynist or …).
    The fact that he didn’t mean to be ableist doesn’t detract from the fact that I read his comment as ableist, and it has the real potential to increase ableism. For example, maybe others reading it will take home the message “people with artificial legs shouldn’t go hiking”. That would be a bad thing, IMHO.
    Words are powerful. We should wield them wisely.

  7. Mokele,
    that’s a turncoat argument, and refers to soldiers turning their outer uniform inside out to hide, deny or even change alliegance.
    A turncoat argument is used when something that sounds closed minded is said, reinforcing the positions of other closed minded people by strength of numbers, and when it gets called on as closed minded, the response is “yes, it appears to be unreasonable, except for X, Y and Q”. The problem with it is that the explanation is only ever given to people who notice the unreasonable nature of such comments. The original vague comment lets people make up their own reasons, and only those who think the most likely reason is unfair get the explanation.
    If noone calls it out, the explanation is never made, and the coat stays on the way it is.
    The bigots don’t get told they are wrong. Those pushing for respectful language get told they are not correct, do not have the whole picture, need to be taught about what was not actually said that makes what was said fair and balanced. The words “too sensitive” may not be used, but if it eats like a duck, swims like a duck and is in a group of calm ducks who are trying to eat my chips, I don’t think I’ll spend much time waiting for it to say quack before deciding what it’s likely to be.

  8. Great post. I just wanted to mention that I have a friend with an artificial leg who often wears a peg leg! (Yes you heard it!) And can run around, hike, dance, fence, etc. Sounds like David up there just doesn’t get it.


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