Reading Hands Can with one hand

handscan2I am very pleased to say that Hands Can by Cheryl Willis Hudson is now available in paperback.  This picture book was first published ten years ago, and it has become a preschool favorite.  The bright colors, simple rhyme, and real-life photographs make it a good choice for 2-6 year-olds learning about their bodies and celebrating all the cool stuff they can do.  Not to mention it is great for talking about what it is like to have one hand with little kids.

That might seem like an odd thing to say because there are no one-handed kids in the book, but I have found this book to be a great jumping off point as I talk to kids because they tend to be most curious about the basics.   For example, these are real questions I have gotten from kids:

  • “How do you hug?”
  • “How do you put pajamas on?”
  • “Can you hold hands?”

A peek inside Hands Can
A peek inside Hands Can

Most adults can see obvious answers to these questions, but younger kids (under age 7 or so in my own personal experience) have a hard time working through these questions without guidance.  This is where Hands Can comes in.  I like to take each activity photographed in the book as a brainstorming session.  From the very first page with the little boy waving hello, I ask for other ways we say hello.  Kids can give creative answers.  After all, we might use our voice, our eyes, one hand, or maybe two if we are very excited.  I might demonstrate how I tie my shoes when we get to that page or have them come up with ways to accomplish other tasks with one hand or some other physical restriction for an exercise in problem solving.

In the spirit of answering questions about what I can do, I thought I would answer the one question that doesn’t really get asked: “Is there anything you can’t do with one hand?” Most people probably assume there are lots and lots of things I can’t do, but there are surprisingly few.  It took me a while to come up with these, but here are three things that are difficult (not impossible) to do with my prosthetic arm (and my work-arounds) :

  • Grinding pepper.  For a long time, I just bought ground pepper so that I didn’t have this problem, but my husband is a bit of a foodie who likes things like freshly ground pepper, which means that peppering my food becomes a much more difficult task than it had been in the past.  Usually I just ask for help, but I have been coveting the battery operated pepper grinder at my mother-in-law’s house.  Technology, for the win! 
  • Ziploc bags.  These are difficult because my prosthesis does not grip tightly enough to hold the bag while I am zipping it closed.  To get around this, I can secure the bag against something and zip.  In a pinch, I have been known to use my teeth.  It isn’t classy, but it gets to job done.
  • Headphones/ear muffs.  I can put on headphones or ear muffs well enough, but I feel like I look a little silly when I do it because my fake arm doesn’t bend all the way to my ear.  Fortunately, I really don’t use either of these things very often.  As you might imagine, I was an early adopter of ear buds.

For more information see my FAQ about my fake arm or this article in Book Links magazine about the books I use to talk about my disability.

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What we think we see

What do you think you see?

Recently, I’ve run across a couple of different articles about people with disabilities and our assumptions about them. These issues feel personal to me because I was born with a limb deficiency–technically a disability.  I am no stranger to assumptions based on what people think they see.

The first link was being tweeted around some by some parenting folks I follow.  A mom of a child with cerebral palsy writes “This is what a child with a disability looks like, right? Wrong.”  You see, her son doesn’t Look Disabled.   That seems like a good thing until you find yourself having to convince people that your child has a disability.  Over and over again.  I should be glad that I have the opposite problem.  When people see me, they think they see a disabled person, and they make the usual assumptions about what I can and can’t do.  I have the task of pleasantly surprising people.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard some version of this: “Oh! You can tie your own shoes! That’s wonderful!”  Their eyebrows mark the exclamation points after every sentence.  It gets old sometimes.  I mean, I’m a grown-ass woman.  You should not be surprised that I can tie my own shoes.  Did you know that I can tie my shoes even without my prosthetic arm?  Now I’ve surprised you!  :)  I understand the surprise.  I really do.  If I weren’t me, I’d probably be surprised too.

The second article was written from a perspective I lived myself: Pregnancy With a Disability.  The woman, a psychologist, writes of situations that were familiar to me (people asking if the disability is genetic) and some that I hadn’t encountered (being labelled as a high risk pregnancy without a good reason).  Particularly interesting to me was her brief mention of learning to breastfeed with one arm. In all the reading and preparing I’d done while pregnant, it had never occurred to me that being down one limb might affect nursing.  And really, my biggest challenge in learning to breastfeed with a limb deficiency was in getting the nurses in the hospital to believe that I could and to help me try.  Once I got past that obstacle, it was about as smooth sailing as learning to breastfeed ever is.

These two articles get at why I talk, blog, and publish about being different.  I understand the assumptions.  I’m not asking that they not occur to people initially. I just don’t want people to be so hard to convince when I tell you I can do something.  I don’t want people to be quite so surprised.  I want to change what you think you see, so that next time you run in to someone who looks like me, you’ll be just a bit more open to what’s really there.