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Podcast: Aimee Mullins: How my legs give me super-powers

Podcast Source:

View Podcast Online? Yes

Podcast length: 10 minutes

Podcast Description

This podcast, part of the 2009 TED conference, is the videoing of a speech given by Aimee Mullins, on the state of prosthetic leg development, and the narrowing divide between disability and superhuman ability.


Presenter Biographies

Aimee Mullins

Aimee Mullins was born without fibular bones, and had both of her legs amputated below the knee when she was an infant. She learned to walk on prosthetics, then to run -- competing at the national and international level as a champion sprinter, and setting world records at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. At Georgetown, where she double-majored in history and diplomacy, she became the first double amputee to compete in NCAA Division 1 track and field.

After school, Mullins did some modeling -- including a legendary runway show for Alexander McQueen -- and then turned to acting, appearing as the Leopard Queen in Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. In 2008 she was the official Ambassador for the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival.

She's a passionate advocate for a new kind of thinking about prosthetics, and recently mentioned to an interviewer that she's been looking closely at MIT's in-development powered robotic ankle, "which I fully plan on having."

Transcript Available? No

Audio file available? No

Podcast Download? Yes

32.2 MB

Podcast viewing notes

The presenter walks about the stage all throughout the talk, gesturing. She is wearing a short pencil skirt that just covers her knees, and heels. It is worth remembering as you watch this, that those legs are entirely prosthetic. The legs are inorganic and artificial, yet there is no trace of disability whatsoever. This was very much the point of the speech.

Aimee starts the talk on a very interesting note. She talks about a recent visit she made to a children's museum, in front of 300 children ages 6-8. There, she asked to be allowed two minutes alone with the kids, before the teachers came in. This she said was because kids have no natural preconceptions, those they gain as they age come from adults telling them what is right and wrong; what is allowed and what isn't allowed. Likewise they only learn to be frightened of something when an adult tells them to behave that way...

As Aimee put it, if the kids had filed in with the teachers at the start the teachers would have reminded them to be gentle around the nice disabled lady, not to stare, and not to ask impertinent questions.

Instead, they all bundled into the room, ran up to a table upon which were a dozen different pairs of legs, all Aimee's, and began prodding them, poking them, leaning on them to see what weight they would take. In short, investigating.

Interaction with her, was little different. Without being warned of a disability, the children saw her as superhuman ability.

She talks about her previous visit to the TED conference in 1998, which in many ways shaped the next decade of her life - working on prosthetics, individualising them and raising them to be an enablement device and an artform for individual expression.

She was able to use the conference then to "put a call out to inventors outside the traditional medical community". This holistic approach to prosthetic design leapfrogged prosthetic design in ways that had never before been achieved. Now, she's doing that again, looking for ways to propell things onto the next stage, with a fresh generation of inventive minds.

"Stop compartmentalising form, function, and aesthetics, and assigning them different values."

She talkes about how at the time, back at the turn of the century, she would be invited all around the world to talk about her cheetah legs - state of the art at the time, and said people of all ages, both genders would come up to her and say "You know Aimee, you're very attractive, you don't lool disabled." She proved her superhuman-ness there by not punching them, of course.

However, the conversations as she put it, really opened her eyes to the nature of beauty. She doesn't feel disabled, but 'disabled cannot be beautiful'? This led to a whole series of prosthetic legs designed specifically to be beautiful. One set she wore to a party, and as she states, everyone thought they were beautiful high-class long boots. They weren't. They were wood grain prosthetic legs.

"Pamella Anderson has more prosthetic in her body than I do. Nobody calls her disabled."

"I started to move away from the need to replicate human-ness as the only ascetic value."

Aimee brags of how she can change her height - thanks to interchangale prosthetic legs, she has a storehouse of five different heights she can be, depending on what she feels like for that day. At the conference she decided tall was better, so became 6' 1" tall. She can also go down to 5' 8" which would have been her natural height.

She stated that when the legs she was wearing were first made the year prior, she went out to party with them at a high-class party, and met a friend who she has known for years, at her normal 5' 8" height.

"Her mouth dropped open when she saw me, and she went 'but Aimee, that's not fair.'"

That was the key, as Aimee said, the woman was distraught because "its not fair that you can chhange your height as you wanted". That was the cincher, the point at which a disability stopped being a disability, and instead became an enablement to do things a natural body could never do.

"The conversation with society has changed profoundly in this last decade. It is no-longer a conversation about overcoming deficiency. It's a conversation about augmentation. Its a conversation about potential. A prosthetic limb doesn't represent the need to replace loss any more. It can stand as a symbol that the wearer has the power to create whatever it is that they want to create in that space. "

"The people that society once considered to be dis-abled, can now become the architects of their own identities and indeed continue to change those identities by designing their bodies from a lace of empowerment."


Additional Research Links

Aimee Mullins - Wikipedia

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Staff Comments


Untitled Document .