Hitting The Books: This $80 Prosthetic Has Helped Millions Walk Again

Tall and taciturn, with a face weathered by many years of outdoor labor, Devansh told us the story of how he got his first foot. He’d gotten an infection after a bad fall twenty years earlier, and the infection had necessitated an amputation.

Hitting The Books: This $80 Prosthetic Has Helped Millions Walk Again
Hitting The Books: This $80 Prosthetic Has Helped Millions Walk Again

The modern world around us — from the spaces we inhabit to the furniture we perch upon to the gadgets, tools and devices we hold in our hands — is implicitly designed for humans that fit within a specific bell curve of shape and ability.

If you happen to fall outside that specified range, navigating the internet, your community, even your own home, can become exponentially more difficult. But it doesn’t have to be this way, argues artist, writer and design researcher Sara Hendren.

In her new book, What Can a Body Do, Hendren examines the challenges that people with disabilities face on a daily basis in a world that often doesn’t take their needs into account and shows that more inclusive design — from cybernetic prosthetic arms and more accessible city streets to tactile doorbells for the deaf — isn’t just possible, it’s already practical.

In the excerpt below, Hendren looks at the Jaipur Foot, an unpowered, low-cost prosthetic that has helped nearly two million lower leg amputees in India and other countries regain their ability to walk.

One of the largest public hospitals in Asia is in the city of Ahmedabad, in India’s western state of Gujarat. The sheer magnitude and reach of the care it offers has resulted in an informal economy that thrives around and between its long row of buildings. Families camp out along its sidewalks and entryways, waiting for relatives or friends.

Vendors in brilliantly colored clothing sell snacks, and dung patties for fuel, to these captive crowds, talking and trading as their paths are crisscrossed in every direction by mopeds, bicycles, animals, and pedestrians. And down at the end of the row, in the basement of a building that houses an extension of the hospital’s offices, there’s a small workshop for lower‐leg prosthetics.

This is one outpost of Jaipur Foot, a nonprofit organization that designs, builds, and distributes their eponymous artificial legs all over India and in surrounding countries, at hospitals and in mobile clinics to Asia, Africa, and parts of South America. The signature Jaipur Foot is a below‐knee prosthesis, one designed to be the most robust and affordable of its kind.

On the day I stopped by the clinic, as a visiting professor running a design workshop at Ahmedabad University with my students in tow, a stone mason named Devansh from a tiny rural town was there for a fitting on what would be his fourth prosthetic leg from Jaipur Foot.

Tall and taciturn, with a face weathered by many years of outdoor labor, Devansh told us the story of how he got his first foot. He’d gotten an infection after a bad fall twenty years earlier, and the infection had necessitated an amputation.

He had spent a year without work while the leg healed, until he’d seen an advertisement for one of Jaipur Foot’s mobile clinics on television: a team was coming to his region. Getting that first leg had made it possible for him to return to work, and each replacement has come when the prior one has worn out its functionality.

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