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When I Get Put on a 'Disability Pedestal' Because of My Limb Amputation

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“You’re such an inspiration.”

“You’re so strong.”

“You amaze me.”

Individuals living with a disability are frequently lauded with these well-meaning accolades. While I know that the intent is to offer me a compliment, I shudder each time I am the recipient of one of those phrases. Living my life utilizing a prosthetic leg does not automatically make me amazing, heroic or inspiring. Praising me for completing normal tasks of daily living is actually an insult.

Recently a kind older lady told me that she was “so proud of me” when I was ordering ice cream at McDonald’s. Why is ordering my own ice cream something worthy of a compliment? Granted, I was proud of myself for opting to go for the vanilla cone in lieu of the hot fudge sundae, but she could not have known that. I know she meant well, but her compliment was simply misplaced and degrading.

Subconsciously, most people rationalize reasons that limb loss will never happen to them. This is accomplished several ways; one is blaming the amputee. The diabetic hears whispers, “She should have taken better care of her blood sugar.” The traumatic amputee might overhear, “What was he doing driving that late at night?” The soldier “knew what he signed up for.” I believe coming up with a cause that could have been avoided is a way of justifying that a
limb loss won’t happen to them.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that showering me with praise for completing the mundane is actually another coping mechanism. Disability, specifically limb loss, can happen to anybody at anytime. I was doing nothing wrong when my accident occurred. I lost my foot because a computer fell on it at a conference. The fact that my amputation resulted from a seemingly benign, everyday event is both scary and incomprehensible. In an effort to insulate from the reality that everybody is at risk for learning to live with the unthinkable, the Disability Pedestal is utilized.

I think it makes people feel better to believe I was somehow more prepared to live with a disability. I had the strength and fortitude to overcome the obstacles I faced, hence the amputation happened to me instead of them. It is simply too overwhelming for the average person to believe that limb loss can happen to anyone at any time.

If I had just one dollar for every time I have heard, “I wouldn’t be able to continue” or “I don’t know how you do it; you’re so strong,” I would be a rich lady. Most look at an amputee and instantly think pain, disfigurement, and disability. They fail to realize that the surgical pain wanes and the mind slowly adjusts to a new body image. In reality, limb loss is something that must be experienced in order to fully grasp the personal evolution.

I used to challenge these unnecessary compliments, but I quickly discovered it wasn’t worth
the argument. I have learned to simply say thank you and move on.

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Originally published: November 20, 2016
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