Published 3/05, Copyright 2005,

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Sure, I was impressed running into the actor, Ed Begley, Jr., some fifteen years ago at the Los Angeles Convention Center during a wheelchair show that shared the complex with some sort of political convention.  After all, Ed is impressive as a larger-than-life guy, a giant of a man, with his trademark wire-rimmed glasses and shimmering blonde hair.  But, as Ed asked me about my own chair, I was distracted by a head floating across the top of the crowd, pointing out the phenomena to Ed.  And, if Ed's frowned, questioning brow didn't shriek of bewilderment when I said, "Hey, look at that floating head," he, too, was equally fascinated, realizing that there truly was a floating head, skimming across the middle of the crowd.

"It's a guy driving a powerchair stander," I said, dispelling the mystery.  "But, it sure does look like a floating head above the crowd, doesn't it?"

Wheelchair standers are a unique segment of mobility products.  After all, by nature, a wheelchair is intended for those sitting down.  As a result, wheelchair standers are a concept that inevitably gains the attention of most.

From a technical side, standers begin with the user in a seated position, capturing the front of the knees and the chest, then the backrest and seat move upward and forward, effectively unfolding vertically, securing the user in the standing position. On manual wheelchair standers, the stander action is accomplished with mechanical struts, and powerchairs use power actuators.  Additionally, most powerchair standers allow the user to recline, elevate the legrests, then tilt to a standing position - this can be helpful to those needing to incline in stages rather than directly transitioning from sitting to standing.

Physically, standing has many benefits.  Pressure relief and improved circulation are of great benefits to those who stand.  However, among the foremost benefits is to the bladder, dramatically reducing the effects of constriction when seated, and fostering full emptying.

Toward personal benefits, wheelchair standers can bring positive functional, social, and psychological influences to a user's life.  In the home, a stander may assist independent living skills ranging from cooking to laundry.  In social settings, a stander may allow increased access ranging from reaching tall eatery tables to seeing over the crowd at concerts.  And, in the workplace, a stander can increase environmental access ranging from reaching a chalkboard as a teacher to reaching a machine as an engineer.  In all, however, standers may make some users feel more at ease in daily encounters, able to assume an upright stature, looking others in the eyes.

Despite so many benefits, standers aren't suited for everyone.  In a RESNA survey of wheelchair stander users, 77% were paraplegics, and 21% were quadriplegics, mirroring the fact that higher-level spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, and other involved disabilities are not as well suited for standing as lower-level disabilities.  Specifically, as also referenced by Resna's survey, 10% of users experience fainting, headaches, and nausea.  In all applications, nonetheless, one should consult with his or her therapist and doctor before ordering a wheelchair stander.

With powerchair standers costing upwards of $25,000 for complete powerchair packages, they are very expensive and exceptionally difficult to fund via most insurance.  There have been successful appeals based on bladder and circulatory medical necessity for a wheelchair stander, but such instances are very rare, especially in the realm of governmental insurance, which typically only funds a single function of tilt or recline, with a stander not deemed as such a necessity for pressure relief.

While not physically or economically obtainable for many, powerchair standers make tremendous physical, functional, and social enhancements in appropriate users' lives.   As Ed Begley, Jr. and I witnessed first hand, not only can wheelchair standers place you at eye level with others, but they can also help you soar above the crowd.

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