They say, “If the shoe fits…wear it”, but what if it’s the foot that doesn’t fit? Artificial limbs are usually designed with a one-size-fits-all mentality, gearing them towards the majority of amputees: men. There is a rapidly growing population of 2.3 million female veterans that are seeking help from veteran organizations that are ill-equipped to help them simply because they are women. Female amputees are frequently issued men’s prosthetics because they are the only option available.
“Every morning for more than two years, retired Army Sgt. Brenda Reed had the infuriating chore of screwing on what she calls her “man foot.”” She reports that the Department of Veteran Affairs gave her “man foot” to her after her leg was amputated in 2013. The prosthetic issued to her is so bulky and ill-fitting that it constantly falls off in public and makes getting around for her an unnecessary inconvenience. Is it really too much to ask for a female foot? Apparently it is. Brenda has complained to the VA for years with no avail. A more in depth description of Brenda’s battle for a “foot that fits” can be found here. She was told that if she wanted a female foot, she would need to get one from the private market, which would cost her something in the range of $5,000-$50,000. But don’t worry, if you’re a man, the VA will give you a perfectly fitting prosthetic with hardly any out of pocket cost.
These heroic women are forced to make due with bulky prosthetic limbs that were never intended to have the functionality women require for their daily routines such as putting on a bra or holding a tube of lipstick. Female veterans across the U.S.A. have sacrificed limbs to serve their country and what they get in return is often a man’s artificial leg that was shaved down in attempt to make it fit into a woman’s shoe. It’s an ethically disgusting and sexist issue that seemingly no one is rushing to fix. The number of women who serve for the U.S.A is rapidly growing, while the support they receive when they get home is stuck in the early 1900’s when women weren’t even allowed to serve. Women experience the same hell that men do during combat and when they come home, the men who need artificial limbs are given ones that fit perfectly, while the women are handed a limb that was built to fit the average sized man sitting next to her. The lack of justice is almost too great to comprehend.
Unequal opportunity for adequate prosthesis based on gender doesn’t have to just be ‘the way it is’. It can be repaired by organizations such as the VA investing in 3D printers. Though the cost of 3D printers is rather high, but the cost of printing from them is relatively low. Today’s advanced prosthetics can cost up to $100,000 whereas it only cost approximately $1,500 to 3D print a fully functioning robotic hand. Current 3D printing technology allows for any design modifications necessary. By absorbing the bulk cost of these 3D printers, you are essentially gifting veterans, both male and female, the opportunity to receive an affordable, individualized artificial limb with any specific functionality they may require. With a much more efficient method of providing prosthetics, veteran amputees would only be the tip of the iceberg. The success of these 3D printers will continue to revolutionize the industry for not only veterans but also amputees of all backgrounds. Everyone’s biological body is custom built; their artificial limbs should be to.