Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 173–190

Braces, Wheelchairs, and Iron Lungs: The Paralyzed Body and the Machinery of Rehabilitation in the Polio Epidemics


DOI: 10.1007/s10912-005-2917-z

Cite this article as:
Wilson, D.J. J Med Humanit (2005) 26: 173. doi:10.1007/s10912-005-2917-z


The successful fund raising appeals of the March of Dimes employed images of cute crippled children standing on braces and forearm crutches, sitting in wheelchairs, or confined to iron lungs. Those who had to use these devices as a result of polio, however, were often stigmatized as cripples. American cultural antipathy to these assistive devices meant that polio survivors often had to overcome an emotional and psychological resistance to using them. Whatever their fears, polio survivors quickly discovered the functionality of braces and wheelchairs. By confronting the cultural stigma associated with these devices and in some sense embracing these mechanical “friends,” polio survivors compensated for their paralyzed bodies and became active in the wider world of home, school and work.


poliopostpolioMarch of Dimesfundraisingparalysisassistive devicesrehabilitationdisabilitystigmabracesiron lungswheelchairs“crippled children;” epidemics

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Muhlenberg CollegeAllentown