Prothesis maker aims to change attitudes towards disable through wearable forms of art

Prothesis maker aims to change attitudes towards disable through wearable forms of art

When Ms Yoko Sato lost her left leg in an accident, she fell into despair.

The stigma of amputation in a country that views disability as something to be pitied added to her misery.

Then the 33-year-old Japanese office worker met prosthesis maker Fumio Usui, whose artificial legs let Ms Sato and women like her not only run, play football or execute karate kicks, but also transform some of the appendages into wearable works of art.

"My main aim is to change the image that disabled people are pitiful," Ms Sato, whose leg was amputated seven years ago, told Reuters at a Valentine's Day fashion event featuring models with prosthetic legs.

She was posing in a sassy red mini-dress that showed off a prosthetic leg painted with cherry blossoms and gilded Japanese fans.

"I want to show that prostheses can be cool and sometimes even cute.

"It would be great if people felt that prostheses could be fashion items."

There are an estimated 80,000 people in Japan using prosthetic limbs. Some 7,000, including Paralympians, have been fitted for prostheses by Mr Usui and his workshop, part of an organisation set up in 1932 to help injured railroad workers.


He also founded a sports club to help amputees train for competition and, last year, teamed up with photographer Takao Ochi to produce Amputee Venus, a collection of photos featuring 11 young women who have each lost a leg.

"They make you forget about disability. You don't notice it," Mr Usui said on the sidelines of the fashion show.

The only words in the book, just out in English, are the phrase "Ability not Disability" and brief biographies.

The rest are photos of women: running, snowboarding, snorkelling or posing in a black bustier - all with artificial legs, sometimes painted with flowers or butterflies, on proud display.

Amputee Venus and the fashion event are attempts to change attitudes towards the disabled in Japan, which remains behind much of the West in terms of accessibility and acceptance.

Onlookers at the event were initially surprised to see prosthetic legs on the catwalk, but there were signs Mr Usui's efforts to give amputees a new lease of life may bear fruit.

"I had never been in contact with people with prosthetic legs," said office worker Katsuyuki Aoki, a spectator at the fashion event. "But my impression about prostheses has become positive."

This article was first published on March 02, 2015.
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