After 33 years of wheelchair use, I recently got my first elevating seat. Surely, I’ve known countless people who have had elevating seats on their wheelchairs with great success, and my company has manufactured them for many years; however, personally, I just never had one.
Environmentally, an elevating seat makes clear sense: It gives the ability to reach high places. Additionally, with the popularity of raised tables and bars at restaurants, an elevating seat increases social access, as well as allowing one to see over standing crowds at concerts and sporting events.
However, what’s truly captured my interest was in the common sentiment that I’ve heard users of elevating seats convey, that being able to look others directly eye-to-eye when elevated, as if standing, was a life-changing experience, for once not having to look up to others.
This expressed benefit of an elevating seat changing users’ literal perspectives on the world intrigued me. I’ve always lived my life quite comfortably and assuredly by using a wheelchair at a visual height of 4-foot-something, so was I missing out on some aspect of sitting taller at 5-foot-something that I never realized – that is, would being taller change the way I saw myself, others, and the world?
Based on all of the remarkable life-changing experiences I’ve heard, I was admittedly a bit nervous elevating for the first time. After all, was I going to realize all that I’ve missed out on by not being elevated all of these years? Would my wife, daughter, and house look different? Or, would I possibly feel different about myself, having greater confidence or esteem by being at literal eye level of others?
Nope. I hate to burst your inspired bubble, but sitting a foot taller makes no intellectual difference to me. I mean, sure I can reach higher places, and being able to sit at raised tables and see over crowds is fantastic – it makes the feature well worth buying. But, perception wise, it doesn’t make a darn bit of difference toward who I am. My wife, daughter, and house look the same to me, and, in fact, I don’t visually see any difference sitting about a foot taller than usual – and I certainly don’t feel any difference.
The fact is, I’ve never felt like I look up at the world or that it looks down on me. In my everyday seated position, socially and intellectually, I’ve always felt on a level field, right down to looking people in the eyes when we speak. Some might say that my view stems from my never having walked, that if I walked, my view from a wheelchair would seem different, like others really were looking down to me.
I couldn’t disagree more. If one has a complex emotional hang-up regarding disability, a belief that one is less of a person when sitting in a wheelchair than when standing up, of course one will view height as an issue, believing that sitting taller somehow makes them appear less disabled. However, I say that height has nothing to do with me as a person or the extent to which others perceive disability. No matter if I’m a foot taller or shorter, looking at eye level or breast level, I’m still the same person. (And, in the interest of full disclosure, even when I’m sitting at eye level, I’m still predisposed to look at breast level, but only on certain individuals – this proves that added height does not change me for the better.)
Interestingly, I heard a gentleman note that upon elevating his seat, his wife wanted to dance with him for the first time in 20 years. It is a touching sentiment; yet, it’s completely twisted, too. His wife wouldn’t dance with him at 4-foot-something, but would at 5-foot-something – how is that a relationship to appreciate? If my wife based any of our relationship on my height, not on who I am as a husband, father, and person, I’d skip the new elevating wheelchair, and, instead, look for a new wife!
In fact, upon elevating the first time, I asked my wife what she thought of my new stance, to which she shrugged and noted, “It looks like an elevating seat to me.”
No, an elevating seat didn’t turn me into Brad Pitt in my wife’s eyes. But, that’s alright – she’s always danced with me no matter how short and dorky I am.
The fact is, as terrific as an elevating seat is toward environmental access – and we should all have one for that reason – it doesn’t change who we are. Anyone basing one’s self-worth or esteem on how tall one sits is missing out on a fundamental key to succeeding with disability: We are bigger than our bodies, and it’s not what we see, but it’s how we see ourselves. Sitting tall, it turns out, isn’t about height at all.