Upper-Limb Solutions: How Can I Do This?

Web Development inMotion

Volume 15 · Issue 4 · July/August 2005 | Download PDF

by Rick Bowers

How Can I do This 01

Challenges for upper-limb amputees require planning, ingenuity and innovation

If you are missing one or both arms, you are missing something that most people rely on every day for seemingly simple daily tasks. As such, you can struggle to find ways to accomplish these same tasks in other ways or you can turn to other arm amputees who are willing to share their solutions.

Flexibility and Balance

Though Jessica Cox was born without arms, she recently completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, and she has two black belts in tae kwon do.

Jessica learned from an early age to use her feet as her hands.

Because she says arm prostheses can be cumbersome and are limited in what they can do, she recommends that bilateral arm amputees who decide to use them also learn how to do things without prostheses.

She also encourages other arm amputees to stay physically fit and flexible so that they can use their feet to accomplish tasks. Her own flexibility has been one of the keys to her ability to write and type with her feet, to put her contacts in her eyes with her toes, to drive her car, and even to buckle her seatbelt with her feet.

Balance is a second key, she says. When she was 3 years old, her mother enrolled her in gymnastics, and, at 6, she began taking tap dance classes. These helped her develop excellent flexibility and balance so that she can stand on one foot and use her other foot as an arm.

Jessica’s Tips for Dressing

1. Consider using pants, skirts and shorts with elastic waistbands instead of buttons.

2. To put on these clothes, use a dressing hook or dressing knob that can be stuck on a wall or door either permanently or temporarily with an attached suction cup.

3. When using one with a suction cup, attach it to the wall/door at waist level by using one of your feet while standing on the other.

4. Pick up the clothing item with your foot and hang it on the hook/knob. Hang it at the area where the back belt loop would be.

5. Step into your hanging clothes and work your way into them. The hook/knob should be at hip level so that once you have stepped into your clothes, you can squat to wiggle into them.

Independence Away From Home

John Foppe, who was also born without arms, is a well-known motivational speaker who travels all over the world to deliver seminars. As a result, he has had to learn to do things for himself, especially while traveling.

John’s Tips

Socks – If you want to use your feet as hands, consider wearing Japanese Tabi socks that you can purchase on the Internet. These socks are not thick, and the big toe is separated from the other toes (They look like mittens for the feet). While wearing these socks, you can use your big toe like a thumb to help you pick up and hold things.

Using the Restroom – Consider using pants with expandable waistbands. Then, instead of a belt, you can use elastic suspenders that have large, strong metal clips that won’t easily slip off the pants. (I use beige or tan suspenders because they blend in with my skin and can be worn under a thin shirt if desired.)

The suspenders allow me to use the restroom independently. While standing, I grab the bottom of the pant leg with my toes and pull the pants down. The suspenders stretch with the tension. I don’t wear underwear. After using the restroom, the stretched suspenders retract, pulling the pants up. (Caution: If you plan to travel, you might want to use airportfriendly no-metal suspenders.)

A Simple Technique for Many Occasions

A simple technique that can be used by arm amputees in many situations is to take an object that people would normally hold in their hand (a brush or cleaning pad, for example) and mount it on the wall.

Once a hairbrush is mounted, you can rub your head against it to brush your hair without hands. Similarly, you can hang a large pad on the shower wall and rub against it to clean your body.

A similar concept is used by arm amputees for cooking. You can, for example, have several nails driven through a cutting board. Then, with the sharp ends pointed upward, you can push a tomato or other food item onto the nails to hold it firmly so that you can cut it.

How Can I do This 02Technical Solutions

Some tasks are more difficult, however, and require technical solutions.

Tools, such as knives, forks, wrenches and screwdrivers, are made to be held in a hand, and even if a bilateral upper-limb amputee uses prostheses, he or she will probably have a difficult time using and controlling some of these items.

The N-Abler (now the N-Abler II) was invented to solve this problem. This device can easily be attached to the end of a prosthesis in place of an artificial hand or hook, enabling numerous specially made tools to be firmly attached to the prosthesis. (This device does not permanently replace the hook or hand; rather, it is a temporary addition to them.)

In some cases, the company that makes the N-Abler II will also produce custom-made tools for special tasks.


Jessica Cox, BS, is a motivational speaker. (http://www.rightfooted.com)

John Foppe is a professional speaker and the author of What’s Your Excuse? Making The Most Of What You Have (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002). http://www.johnfoppe.com