We all know that words hold power. They can make you feel wonderful and they can make you cry. In the disability community, we learn first hand how words make us feel. We choose to identify with some, such as disabled, but reject others, like handicapped. There is no real right or wrong set of words that describes everyone, and I will admit that it can be exhausting trying to say the right ones all the time. BUT, there is one that will instantly make my blood boil under any and all circumstances. Amputee.
In my professional and social life, I have yet to find any other word that so powerfully describes someone who underwent a surgical procedure. My opinions on this are a bit controversial. People who don’t have arms and legs learn to identify with this word and become so attached to it that it feels like an insult when I tell them I think it’s a dirty word. Yes, people are free to identify however they please. But I don’t believe that this is something a person realizes that they have a choice to identify with.
When I first started in the prosthetics field, back in college, is when I first noticed it. Teachers and practitioners would make comments such as, “The amputees will be here to be demo patients”. We are learning how to build fake legs, why in the world did they feel the need to specify the medical slag for the patients? If they had two legs, then they wouldn’t be there!!
I think that this nasty word is something that society unintentionally uses, and the outcome has been to make a person feel less than a person. A nationally renown prosthetics company even wrote a book on life as an amputee. I read a few pages before I had to stop out of disgust. Every other sentence had this word in it and it made me feel like I was a martian. This book was written by someone with their limbs. I once witnessed an orthopedic surgeon walk into a patient’s room and tell them that they were an amputee now and life would be much different. Life is going to be different, they had just undergone major surgery, but they were still a person.
Take a second to think back to the first time you heard this word. Was it told to you by a person without limbs? Or was it told to you by someone with all of their limbs? I’d imagine the latter.
I have friends that prefer to identify with this word but I can’t imagine that I will ever understand why. I like to think that I am so much more than my limb loss, and I’d like for people to think about my other characteristics before they say, “We have an amputee that works in our office and she’s pretty neat!”
I like to be identified as a person. If you must describe my physical form, then I prefer the simple explanation of “not having an arm and leg”. I don’t mean to offend anyone with my thoughts, it just makes me feel so sick to think of what power this word holds when it comes to identities. My opinions are not be all, end all, so please let me know your thoughts on this word. If you can swag my opinion, I’ll buy you dinner.