One thing about living life on wheels is that I sometimes struggle to make peace with the fact that people look down at me so often. I’m short to begin with—under 5 feet—but sitting down all the time means that craning my neck to make eye contact is often the norm. In many ways, it feels like a metaphor for how society perceives disabled people: unequal not just in measure, but in existence.
I’ve never been comfortable with the way people enforce a power dynamic based on height, honestly. It’s unfair and unreasonable to think that being short means a person is less worthy of respect or somehow not a full human being. But truth be told, it’s hard not to feel like a shrinking violet when everyone towers over me all the time. Being lower to the ground can sometimes take a psychological toll.
Because of these feelings, the moment I tried iLevel® on my Quantum power wheelchair for the first time was a revelation. I remember it vividly. I elevated the chair as high as it would go, and having suddenly gained a foot in height, I rolled around my house, running my hands over the tops of furniture. Who knew seeing the dusty top of a cabinet could be so empowering? I felt like Godzilla. For once, so much of the world was lower than me.
Of course, I quickly reminded myself that it was important not to buy into society’s height-based assumptions of power. And moreover, it wasn’t so much about having power, but about being empowered. I realized that my feeling of empowerment came not from literally being higher up in the world, but from having access to a piece of assistive technology that enabled me to make that happen.
I’ve since used iLevel to experience that empowerment on so many different occasions. I like to joke that it’s my party trick. I’ve elevated my chair to reach a high shelf in a grocery store. I’ve elevated it to reach the microphone at a podium while giving a presentation. I’ve elevated it to give my boyfriend a kiss. These all seem like simple things that average-height people might not even consider, but for me, having iLevel literally at my fingertips has been such a gamechanger. And you know the best part? I can decide the height I want to be at, the height that works for me.
I will continue to advocate for a world in which a person’s height is not something that influences people to deem them as less-than or stereotype them. And I will continue to advocate for a world in which people have access to the tools and technology they need to be empowered in a way that works best for them.
About Emily Ladau: Emily is a blogger and serves as the editor in chief of Rooted in Rights. She co-hosts a podcast and has been recognized as an emerging leader in the disability community. Emily lives on Long Island and enjoys traveling and trying new restaurants. Click here to learn more about Emily.