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Personalising aesthetics when making prosthetics

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“A piece of jewellery” is how Jolanda discribes her prosthetic leg. For her most recent prosthesis she did not choose the standard skin coloured model. “I didn’t understand why I would do that! You would see it’s not a real leg anyway, so I decided to make something beautiful out of it.” Her prosthetic leg is now covered in colourful drawings. Doing so helped her to accept it as a part of who she is. ‘’It is no longer something that needs to be hidden”

When a prosthesis is created the primary focus is on its function. It is completely adapted to body, lifestyle and needs. Contrary to this, there are very few possibilities to define what your prosthesis will look like. “It isn’t motivating to be in the rehabilitation center and to see everyone else walking with the same leg as yours. Each body is unique. This individuality is further extended by a personal style of dressing. When you are in need of a prosthesis you have lost a part of yourself. I see aesthetics not as a shallow side issue but as a way to gain ownership over the prothesis”.

Heckert & Van Lierop is a company that specialises in orthopaedic aids. Their waiting room faces a huge glass window overlooking the place where the new body parts are being made. Making their workshop a transparant place, triggers the sense that you could take part in the making process yourself.

This organisation underlines the importance of an aesthetically personalised prosthesis. Doing so shifts the attention directed at the prosthesis and the disability, towards a more curious and positive direction. “We have had people who found it very important that their children could pick the print for their prosthesis. Others wanted the fabric of their favourite piece of clothing implemented in the cover.”

An obstacle they encounter is that aesthetic alterations are costly and not covered by the insurance. Jolanda surpassed this problem by spray painting her prosthesis herself. Not everybody however has the skills and equipment to pull this of. This is where the Careable community could play a big role. Can we find easily accessible and affordable ways to personalise? High quality stickers, fabric sleeves or 3D printed shells. Can we make them removable and customisable, resistant to daily use?

When we buy a coffee machine, there are countless colours and shapes to choose from. Healthcare products – mimicking the body and emotionally charged – seem to often fall into a single aesthetic category of sterile functionality. How could we, through acknowledging the value of aesthetics, enlarge both ownership and impact of these products as it did for Jolanda? If we value this, then let’s also make use of the skills of artists and designers while keeping the actual user in the lead of the design and decision making process.

Many thanks to Jolanda and Debby for sharing their personal story and thanks to Leonie of Heckert & Van Lierop for sharing her expertise and personal views. Learn more about Heckert & Van Lierop here.

STORY BY

Marie Panken

PHOTOGRAPHY BY

Marie Panken

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