Y’know, sometimes a question comes along that exposes your biases. I’m really, really glad you asked me this.
My initial instinct was to say no. There are a lot of tasks as a paramedic that require very specific motions that are sensitive to pressure: drawing medications, spreading the skin to start IVs. There’s strength required–we do a LOT of lifting, and you need to be able to “feel” that lift.
So my first thought was, “not in the field”. There are admin tasks (working in an EMS pharmacy, equipment coordinator, supervisor, dispatcher) that came to mind as being a good fit for someone with the disability you describe, but field work….?
(By the way, I know a number of medics with leg prostheses; these are relatively common and very easy to work with. I’m all in favor of disabled medics. I just didn’t think the job was physically doable with this kind of disability.)
Then I asked. I went into an EMS group and asked some people from all across the country. And the answers I got surprised me.
They were mostly along the lines of “oh totally, there’s one in Pittsburgh, she kicks ass” or “my old partner had a prosthetic forearm and hand, she could medic circles around the rest of her class”. One instructor said they had a student with just such a prosthesis, and wasn’t sure how to teach; the student said “just let me figure it out”, and by the end of the night they were doing very sensitive skills better than their classmates.
Because of that group I know of at least a half-dozen medics here in the US with forearm and hand prostheses.
So yes. You can totally have a character with one forearm, who works as a paramedic for a living.
Thanks again for sending this in. It broadened my worldview.
xoxo, Aunt Scripty
THANK YOU, from the disability community, for doing the actual research and not just relying on your first assumptions and stereotypes.
Organization of nurses with disabilities: http://nond.org/
Association of medical professionals who are deaf or hard of hearing: https://amphl.org/
When I was growing up, I was around people who were mostly pretty good at staying positive about my range of career options as a deaf person and who encouraged me to dream big. But one of the few things I was told that I likely couldn’t do would be to be a doctor. This is because they weren’t sure how to work around the “need” to listen to certain things through a stethoscope. No, it didn’t have a real impact on my career-related decision making because I didn’t really have an interest in the medical professions anyway, my interests took me in other directions. But it was one of the few limits that some people put on my vision, and even though it didn’t have a practical impact on me I still felt the constraint a bit – just the idea that something random like a stethoscope could potentially shut me out from an entire field.
Now flash forward to when I’m in my 20s, back when I was interviewing people and writing articles for a university staff/faculty publication and alumni outreach magazine. And one day I find myself interviewing a deaf EMT for an article I was writing on deaf women working in various professions related to the various sciences. And this deaf EMT had a specialized stethoscope designed to be SO LOUD that even I, a severely to profoundly deaf person, could actually hear a beating heart or the sound of nerves working! And that was with putting the buds for the stethoscope directly into my ears, which meant that I actually took out my hearing aids in order to listen instead of having to figure out how to get headphones to directly funnel sound into the eeny tiny microphone in my hearing aid. The kind of headphones designed with buds going directly into the ear just DO NOT WORK FOR THAT, period full stop. And most things designed for hearing people DO NOT WORK for deaf people because they only use the little bitty baby amplification that hearing people use to protect their incredibly fragile ears that start to hurt at just about the point I’m starting to be able to hear that there even IS a sound to be heard. Hearing people run in terror from the kind of BIG LOUD amplification that us deaf people need. (Unless they are the kind of rock music fans who think all good music ends with actual, noticeable hearing loss at the end of the concert.) And on top of that, most things designed for hearing people naturally don’t compensate for the fact that I hear low pitch sounds MUCH better than high pitch sounds. Meaning, I can actually hear low pitch sounds if they are amplified loud enough, but for high pitch sounds – well, the first 32 years of my life they basically didn’t exist in my life, for the past 14 or 15 years the only reason I can hear high pitch sounds is because these days, with the advent of digital (not just analog) hearing aids, it’s now possible to have hearing aids that take high pitch sounds and process them so they sound like low pitch sounds. So this is what water sounds like! When it’s processed so that it’s actually something I can hear. But somehow this stethoscope–invented when (most? or all?) of us deaf folks were still wearing analog hearing aids–managed to be loud enough for me.
Until the deaf woman EMT loaned me her stethoscope for a minute and explained it to me, I didn’t even know that you could actually hear the nerves working, not just the heart or breath in the lungs! And never imagined actually hearing it myself
And the deaf EMT told me that, for deaf people who really can’t hear anything at all even with that LOUD stethoscope, there are other machines to pick up basically the same information that you can get through a stethoscope. And she also pointed out that’s a fairly small part of being a doctor or EMT, anyway. You don’t have to be able to use a stethoscope to join the medical professions.
And … somehow, even though I had never personally actually wanted to be a doctor anyway, and still don’t want to, and still don’t miss having tried it, it was still so awesome realizing that this one last barrier that had been put on my old childhood imagination could just fade away.
People need to know.
PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW.
That people with disabilities can do all kinds of things
THAT people with disabilities ARE ALREADY DOING all kinds of things.
Because … on one hand, yes, there are a FEW things that people with certain disabilities actually can’t do. They do not yet have driverless cars on the open market for everyone to buy, so until that’s ready, blind people still can’t do jobs that by definition have to involve driving (like taxi cab driver, bus or truck driver, etc). And deaf people can’t be phone operators. And although deaf people could translate between written languages, and although there are certified deaf interpreters who translate between signed languages (yeah that’s an actual thing), people who are really deaf (and not just a little hard of hearing) can’t interpret between spoken languages on the phone.
But most of the things that people THINK are impossible for people with disabilities to do? Can be worked around with the right technologies, devices, software, adaptations, and a little resourcefulness and creativity.
More people need to be like @scriptmedic, meaning they need to do the work to actually research the options and find out what is already being done. And they need to talk with people who have the actual disability to see what ideas they have. Because we often have a lot of these ideas, and we often see some of our supposedly more “innovative” ideas as being actually rather boring and ordinary because we’ve been doing them since before our memories even start. Just by example – As far as I can tell, from the bits I know (I’ve only known a few adults without hands at all well), many babies born without arms seem to just naturally do all kinds of things with their feet instead, because that’s what they have to explore the world with. It seems like a “gee whiz” creative answer for people who haven’t needed to adapt to life without arms, but isn’t so innovative from the perspective of an adult who has been doing all kinds of stuff with their feet literally since infancy. As a deaf person who has been using writing as a tool of communication since, like, age 7 or something, it baffles me when I still occasionally meet hearing adults who seem to find the idea remarkable. And all that is before you even get to the stuff where we have to actually work to come up with a solution, by drawing upon more sophisticated adult experience, knowledge of available technologies, and opportunity to talk with other adults with similar disabilities who are working to solve things too. We usually have a lot, a lot of practice working to come up with solutions for things we haven’t tried before, so we are often likely to see solutions that everyone else misses–and not just for disability related accommodations.
People with disabilities don’t want to set themselves up to fail any more than anyone else. So if they seem to believe there’s a way for them to do it, you should give them a chance to show you, or explain what they’ve already been doing in the past, or explain what they’ve seen other people with the same disability do, or explain what ideas they have that they would like a chance to try out. Don’t just assume and then stop trying. Talk to us.
This. All of this.
Are you looking at creating a disabled character? Then you need to think not about what they can or can’t do, but about how they might approach the same task with different tools at their disposal.
Don’t say “X can’t do Y or Z”. First, ask, “what is actually NEEDED to do Y? What’s the process? How could I adapt it?”
I’ll be the first to say that medicine is an ableist community. We are. We almost have to be, because the whole point of medicine is to reduce disability and disease. We assume total health is the baseline, that other states are “abnormal” and to be corrected.
And sometimes that leads to misunderstandings. Misconceptions. False assertions.
And I’m going to tell you this, because I think @andreashettle would like to know this: I am, functionally speaking, a person with “normal” hearing. (I have a very slight amount of loss from working under sirens for a decade, but functionally I do just fine).
But you know what? I’ve never heard the sound of nerves. Never. I didn’t even realize that that is a sound you can hear.
So you, with your deaf ears, just taught me something about a tool I use every. single. day. of. my. life. About a sound I’ve never heard, with my “normal” ears and my “normal” stethoscope. (Okay, it’s a pretty kick-ass stethoscope, lezzbehonest rightnow.)
And for the love of all that is holy, I want to see these characters in fiction. Deaf doctors, one-handed medics, bilateral amputees running circles around other characters just to prove that they can.
I apologize for my misconception, for assuming that disability meant “can’t”. It’s a cultural part of medicine that I dislike. But now that I know it’s a thing I want to see it everywhere.
But if you’re going to do it… do the godsdamned research. Have respect for those who live with disabilities. Write better. Write real.
And above all? Write respectfully.
xoxo, Aunt Scripty