This is the true story of a man who walked into his neighborhood bank. His mission was simple… cash a check. But for Steve Valdez, this was going to be anything but simple.
Steve Valdez is the Manager of Community Relations for Hillsborough County’s Public Works Department. Highly energized, passionate, and a natural motivator, Steve expects accountability in himself and in others around him. Born and raised in Tampa Bay, Steve has watched as the Tampa Bay area transformed into a major metropolitan force. Steve was never satisfied in passively watching this city evolve. He is a major figure in local government and a huge proponent of community activism.
In the United States, there are approximately 1.7 million people living with limb loss. It is estimated that one out of every 200 people in the U.S. has had an amputation.
Rates of congenital limb anomalies among newborns are at 26 per 100,000 live births.
Source: National Limb Loss Information Center
Mr. Valdez was born in 1955 with no arms and an extreme length discrepancy of his legs. The total absence of his arms, including shoulders, is referred to as bilateral shoulder disarticulation, or bilateral amelia. The deficiency of his right leg below the knee is referred to as fibular/tibular hemimelia. Like the evolution of his home town, Steve has been witness to prosthetic technology’s rapid development. As a kid, his prosthetic arms were heavy, with leather straps and a maze of steel cables. “At five years old, living in Tampa, they were hot and uncomfortable, so I wouldn’t want to use them”. As a teen, he saw the prosthetic designs begin to improve and, though still hot and heavy, Steve became a dedicated prosthetic user.
When Steve was a kid, prosthetic devices were composed of heavier composite material. Today, prosthetics use light weight plastics with breathable designs, silicone, and ultra lightweight materials like aluminum and titanium.
Until recently, Steve used a body-powered prosthetic design for his artificial arms. The design is composed of a rigid socket that wraps around his upper body, mechanical shoulder/elbow joints, and hook devices at the end of the forearms. The entire system is set up with elaborate harnessing and a complex cable network. Specific and exaggerated movements of the chest, along with switches controlled by chin movement operate the harnessing and cables. The cable network locks and unlocks the elbows, as well as opens and closes the hook devices.
The advantage to this system is its simplicity. However, the exaggerated body movements can lead to overuse syndrome of the neck and back. Also, it is difficult to achieve fine motor skills with fluidity. The harnessing, cables, and innate limitations of the components result in a limited functional envelope. The functional envelope is the area in which the prosthetic user can operate the device. For body-powered prostheses, this envelope is typically limited to the chest and waist area.
Today, Steve works diligently on his computer with myoelectric prosthetic arms, and uses an extension prosthesis for his right leg. His chest is wrapped in a lighter weight rigid frame and the components require only subtle body movements for operation. This reduces the stress on Steve’s body and improves his efficiency. These prosthetic arms, a far cry from the prostheses of yesterday, are equipped with DynamicArm computerized elbows and electric hands. They swing naturally and quietly, operated via subtle muscle movements in the chest. These muscle movements are recorded and transmitted through electrodes, which travel down to the elbow and hand devices.
Left to right: Bob Hoover, Westcoast Brace & Limb prosthetic technician, Steve Valdez, and Greg Bauer, CPO and President of Westcoast Brace & Limb perform an initial prosthetic fitting of Steve’s new myoelectric shoulder disarticulation prostheses. As the myoelectric components rely on subtle muscle movements for operation, an accurate and intimate fit is crucial.
Steve Valdez learns to operate his new arms, which are now capable of manipulating fine objects.
The inner components of his prostheses are protected by production gloves. These gloves are moderately realistic in their appearance. There are a limited number of colors to choose from and the details are limited to the general shape of fingers, knuckles, and major palm wrinkles. These gloves are not custom colored and do not possess high-details, such as fingerprints. But for Steve, who is more concerned with function than cosmetics, the production covers add an excellent final touch for his prosthetic arms.
It was a long, hard battle to get these computerized arms paid for by his insurance company, which originally determined that the myoelectric technology wasn’t medically necessary. Westcoast Brace & Limb, Steve’s prosthetic provider in Tampa, Florida, appealed to the insurance company and ultimately the prostheses were covered by the insurance carrier. The appeal process was a struggle, but Steve is no stranger to challenges. According to Steve, “Given the opportunity”, people can accomplish amazing things. “For many with physical limitations,” Steve asserts, “it may take them longer, but they can do the job. They can hold themselves accountable in their career and their lives. You are accountable for your own actions”. Amazing, when Steve looks back throughout his life, his congenital limb deficiencies never prevented him from accomplishing a goal.
Understanding Steve’s journey through childhood and his intense desire for accountability makes the events that unfolded on his most recent trip to Bank of America hard to comprehend.
Steve stood in front of the teller at downtown Tampa’s Bank of America and held his wife’s check in his prosthetic hand. “I just went on my lunch break really quick to cash a check for my wife”. What he did not realize was that the Bank of America imposed an etched-in-stone policy of requiring thumbprints for this type of transaction. “Obviously, you’re not going to give us a thumbprint,” the teller stated before calling the manager. “I wasn’t even taken aside”, Steve adds. The entire conversation took place in the main area of the bank, where other customers stand and wait. The bank gave Steve two options: bring his wife, which was not an option, or open an account, which would cost money. Before leaving in shock, Steve informed the bank that they were not providing him with a reasonable alternative to a policy, which could be in conflict with guidelines set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
The U.S. Department of Justice provides information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) through a toll-free ADA Information Line. This service permits businesses, State and local governments, or others to call and ask questions about general or specific ADA requirements including questions about the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
ADA specialists are available Monday through Friday from 9:30 AM until 5:30 PM (eastern time) except on Thursday when the hours are 12:30 PM until 5:30 PM.
Spanish language service is also available.
For general ADA information, answers to specific technical questions, free ADA materials, or information about filing a complaint, call:
800 - 514 - 0301 (voice)
800 - 514 - 0383 (TTY)
Other representatives for Bank of America have since apologized to Steve, who is taken back by the media frenzy his story has created. Online articles spawn a variety of reader comments, some of which make evident a profound ignorance in the general public toward limb loss and disability. Perhaps Steve has found an unexpected opportunity to educate us all. Busy with his work and fielding countless calls and emails, Steve laughs at his newfound celebrity status, “I just wanted to cash a check”.