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Martha St Jean Headshot

Aftershock and the Haitian Amputees

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With the continuing aftershocks, Haiti is suffering from an inordinate amount of large-scale setbacks. My thoughts float to family and friends still there - hungry, without shelter or access to medical care. A particular group stands out in my mind - the amputees. Since January countless news stories have referred to this "new generation."

Surgeons' estimate 200,000 will lose limbs, how the amputees will cope professionally and socially needs to be further explored. Growing up, I remember conversations in which adults would comment on the fact that Haitian civil society is hostile, not merely unfriendly, to those with disabilities. To be disabled in Haiti is to have jobs and access to education denied.

Those of my parents' generation had their history lessons, as an American I have my own. In this country one of the greatest President's we have known led from a wheelchair. For many in my parent's generation FDR was and continues to be not only an aberration but an impossibility.

I am taken back to a course I took at New York University, where visiting professor Kim Butler of Rutgers, posed a series of questions, which have remained ingrained with me: "Who are people; who is not and who decides?" I was challenged to look at communities around the world and recognize the impact social, economic, and political standing have in deciding one's life trajectory. Socioeconomic stature will now be dictated for many on the absence or presence of a limb.

Today, my hope is that we do not begin to proselytize the amputees as society's great burden. Haitians will better navigate the tough road ahead with our recognition of their humanity. I urge Haitians here and abroad to change the lens from which they view the word "disability." This singular act will allow for a stronger rebuilding of the existing Haitian landscape.