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

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Daniel J. Wilson.

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Wilson, D.J. Braces, Wheelchairs, and Iron Lungs: The Paralyzed Body and the Machinery of Rehabilitation in the Polio Epidemics. J Med Humanit 26, 173–190 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10912-005-2917-z

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Keywords

  • polio
  • postpolio
  • March of Dimes
  • fundraising
  • paralysis
  • assistive devices
  • rehabilitation
  • disability
  • stigma
  • braces
  • iron lungs
  • wheelchairs
  • “crippled children;” epidemics