Growing up, my leg braces, or AFO’s (as they are sometimes called), were awfully plain. They were typically a clear-ish plastic, with white straps, usually two. The top strap went over the shin, and the bottom strap was either a long strap that fastened into a figure 8 across my ankle or a single short strap to go over my ankle. It wasn’t until the past year that I actually had an option to have a design on my brace. I had spent years with the upper part of my sock folded over my brace. I also didn’t feel I had the artistic skill to put a design on the brace myself that I would like; stickers would wear over time and peel, so I didn’t have many options.
So when I was cast for my brace, and the cast was cut off, I moved to put on my shoes. I expected the doctor to dismiss me with the good old: “Your brace should be ready in x amount of time.” Instead, he gave me a selection of designs. I admittedly was (at 29) stuck between dinosaurs, comic book designs, or monsters. I ultimately picked the monsters, and my brace is now very colorful and nice to look at. I finally felt as though I could wear my brace with confidence.
Recently, however, a concept of advertising came to a fellow disabled individual named Edward who asserts that others staring at his brace could be utilized to generate potential ad revenue. That revenue would help a disabled person financially, either currently, or in the future. One example within the statement given on the start-up website bracespace.com includes the following:
On the outside, this seems well-founded, doesn’t it? Slap some ads on a child’s brace, save money for them to go to college, or get into a trade school, or whatever they choose to do.
I can see this as being problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, putting advertisements onto a child’s orthoses for the sake or revenue could easily be exploited through caretakers. Are there going to be protections in place for disabled individuals’ ‘potential monetary gain’? Wouldn’t this also interfere with a child’s ability to apply for Social Security Disability, and other programs that these individuals may need throughout their lives?
I understand the want, even the need to revert those stares we have all endured into something positive. Instead of subjecting others in our community to being objectified through advertising, we could simply be creating designs on AFOs and other assistive devices that would instill better confidence within other disabled individuals.
If someone stares, we should be encouraging others whether disabled or able-bodied, in educating others about disability. Hiding it behind and advertisement would only stem the conversation about disability that we are trying to create. The disabled child in question simply becomes a product in this instance, and it thereby removes their autonomy. The expense of crafting these braces, and covering them with said advertisements could be exponential. This would put an undue burden not only on the child but the caretaker. In order to orchestrate advertising into their child’s brace or mobility device, it could potentially cost a lot of money, time, and stress. Instead, we could help instill confidence by letting them choose or even create their own designs. This could even be utilized to donate to foundations focused on disability. The important thing is that we are instilling confidence and happiness in our diverse community. Disability should always be celebrated, and while ads could be one way of someone celebrating that difference, we should focus on building one another up in less complex ways, even if it is just the fact you get to have cool little monsters on your AFO.