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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle meet amputees at the Invictus Games trials in Bath, UK, in April 2018.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle meet amputees at the Invictus Games trials in Bath, UK, in April 2018.
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What not to say to an amputee

Blog post | 09 Oct 2018

Prince Harry has accomplished a lot in recent years: he co-founded a charity to support orphans in Lesotho; he championed mental health issues with William and Kate; and he sealed the deal with Meghan Markle. 

His biggest achievement, however, may be creating the Invictus Games, an international athletics event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen, servicewomen and veterans. This October 20-27, about 500 ‘wounded warriors’ from 18 nations will converge on Sydney to make their mark on the sporting field. 

Among them will be amputees – people who have had the whole, or part, of an arm, hand, leg or foot removed. 

Amputation is more common than you might think, even within the general population. Amputees represent 1 in every 1,000 individuals in Australia, and about 1 lower limb amputation is performed somewhere in the country every hour. 

To celebrate the upcoming Invictus Games, and National Amputee Awareness Week (October 4-11), here are some tips for talking to a person who is missing a limb. 

The dos and don’ts of talking to an amputee 

Don’t get too personal. It’s totally OK to talk to people about their disability but don’t be intrusive, advises one Australian amputee. “A good rule of thumb is: if you wouldn’t ask an able-bodied stranger something so personal, it’s probably a good indication that you shouldn’t ask me,” she says. 

Don’t say, ‘But you can’t do that.’ People living with limb loss are adaptable – it’s best not to assume they’re incapable of doing a task, such as learning an instrument or rock climbing, until they have tried. That said, don’t assume every amputee wants to climb Everest or compete in the Paralympics, either. 

Do let the person help themselves. If you see an amputee struggling with their wheelchair or to pick up something they dropped, don’t jump right in to help, suggests one US-based prosthetist. It’s better to ask the person if they need help and allow them the opportunity to decline your offer. 

Don’t ask to try on their prosthesis. Because that’s rude, and it won’t fit you anyway. 

Do let your child ask questions. Instead of avoiding the conversation, answer your curious kid's questions about the person with the amputation – or allow them to ask the person directly, if it's appropriate. It’s also a good opportunity for you to discuss the differences between all people in the world, explains an expert in rehabilitation psychology at John Hopkins University School of Medicine. 

Avoid saying, ‘You’re an inspiration’ or, ‘Good for you’. While it’s a kind-hearted gesture, some amputees may find it patronising. Many don’t consider themselves disadvantaged because they’re missing a limb. 

Where to get more information 

  • If you’d like to learn more about living with amputation, or if you’re an amputee who needs support or would like to become a peer support volunteer, visit Limbs4Life.

  • For information about limb difference in children, visit Limbs4Kids.

  • You can still get tickets to the Sydney Invictus Games (October 20-27) and many events are free: visit Invictus Games 2018.

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