The Revolution in Prosthetic AestheticsOctober 24, 2020 4:30 pm
We are so proud to be part of this revolution as reported by Wayne Williams, bionics for everyone, in his excellent article published recently. Read an extract below or for the full article go to: Bionics for Everyone.
There is something transformative happening in the prosthetics industry — a long-overdue awakening among product designers, those with limb differences, and the general public that is helping us take a big step toward a more inclusive society. This isn’t about science or technology or even social justice. As with most important transformations, it’s mainly a matter of the heart.
Meet Catalyst #1
Mark Williams is accustomed to big achievements. In 1982, shortly after losing his left leg below the knee in a car accident at age ten, Mark took up swimming. A mere six years later, he won one silver and one bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Paralympic Games.
A year after that, he took home three gold medals from a world championship.
In 2018, he left a successful career in sales management to launch Limb-art, a new business based on a novel product. Not only has he turned that business into a commercial success; it has also won multiple awards in the two years since.
But Mark’s biggest achievement may well turn out to be one that he never fully anticipated.
The Flagpole Leg Syndrome
When Mark wore full-length pants during his years in sales, it was difficult to tell that he wore a prosthesis, mainly because his gait is so smooth. The only time it became apparent was when a breeze flapped his pant leg around the narrow steel rod that had replaced his natural calf and shin. Mark calls this the “flagpole leg syndrome”.
Feeling self-conscious of this at times, he built a plastic cover for his prosthesis that restored the natural shape of his leg.
A few months later, after finding himself with some left-over paint from a car restoration project, he painted his leg cover bright green.
A few months after that, as Christmas approached, he added some flashing LED lights for the holidays. Feeling good about how this looked, he wore a pair of shorts to the supermarket, where he received a delightful response from a young admirer.
“Cool leg,” the child’s voice said from behind him.
Mark turned to see a small boy admiring his prosthesis.
“It made me feel good,” Mark recalls. “The little boy wasn’t looking at my leg out of sympathy or some kind of morbid fascination. He was genuinely excited about, and that made me feel proud of how it looked.”
“It was such a positive experience that, during my drive home, I began to wonder if I could help other amputees feel the same way. And that’s when I first conceived Limb-art.”
So what did Mark do? He did the same thing that he did as a ten-year-old boy when he took up swimming: he dove in headfirst.
A Growing Revelation
If you talk to anyone who has ever launched a new business, it is incredibly difficult. The vast majority of new businesses fail.
Mark’s launch of Limb-art is a textbook example of how to do it properly. And with all his early success, awards, and continued expansion, it would be perfectly natural for him to want to celebrate his business achievements. But when you ask Mark about Limb-art, that’s not his main focus. What he talks about is making a difference in people’s lives — the scale of which it took him a while to fully comprehend.
“It started more or less the way I thought it would,” Mark says. “We were making these really attractive covers and whenever one of our customers would strap them on for the first time, they’d smile and their eyes would light up.”
“Then we started noticing changes in behaviour. Women who had spent most of their lives trying to hide their prosthesis suddenly started wearing skirts to show them off. Same with guys and shorts. Others bought covers to match their motorcycles or multiple covers for different occasions. It became obvious that people had a strong desire to express themselves both personally and creatively.
“But I’ll tell you when it really hit home. As Christmas 2019 approached, relatives and romantic partners began buying our covers as gifts for their limb-different loved ones. Some of them then filmed those loved ones opening their gifts and strapping their covers on for the first time, and then sent us the videos afterward.
“The sheer joy bubbling out of those videos was unbelievable. My wife and I spent the better part of the day watching one video after another with tears streaming down our faces. That’s when I knew that this went way beyond products or business. It was changing how people felt about themselves.”
Quotes like these from Limb-art’s customers accentuate this point:
“I love my cover. Thank you so much. I have a lot more confidence now.”
“I love my Leg cover so much. It has given me so much more confidence and feels like I have a calf shape, so I wear more skirts and dresses to show it off. You can’t tell you’re wearing it as it’s so light. I’ve had so many compliments too!”
And it’s not just these quotes. If you go on social media, amputees are posting pictures of themselves wearing beautiful and expressive prosthetic covers of every imaginable design. Think about that for a moment. For hundreds or even thousands of years, most people with limb differences have tried to hide those differences. Now they’re proudly exhibiting them online. That’s revolutionary.
As with all modern revolutions, Mark even has a hashtag for it: #standoutstandproud.
Yet, we still haven’t captured the full impact of all this because it’s not only changing how those with limb differences feel about themselves. It’s also changing how others treat them.
Breaking Down Barriers
As Mark increasingly wore his covers in public, he noticed a recurring reaction. Strangers would compliment his leg cover. They were refreshingly comfortable in doing so, often leading to positive exchanges. The same thing is happening to many of his customers.
“Normally, when you have a limb difference and you meet someone for the first time, there can be a certain amount of awkwardness,” Mark says. “Perhaps the person doesn’t know what to say so they don’t say anything. Perhaps you see them staring at your prosthesis for a little too long and it makes you feel self-conscious. Or maybe they think it’s better to ask you about your leg but then they end up making an inquiry that’s too personal.
“Having an attractive leg cover changes all that. Instead of wondering what to say, strangers are just naturally blurting out comments like, ‘Wow, cool leg’, or ‘I love your prosthesis. It looks awesome.’
“Of course, you smile and thank them when that happens, the same way that everyone responds when they receive a compliment. And, boom, any hint of awkwardness is gone.”
Boom, the awkwardness is gone. True to Mark’s humble nature, he makes that statement as a passing observation.
But here at BionicsForEveryone.com, we wonder if the revolution he has helped set in motion is bigger than any of us realize. Every day now, thousands of people are enjoying these kinds of positive interactions. Soon, it will be tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions.