Joe Mctigue searches the top shelves of his kitchen. /Joshua beckman

Joe stands taller than most

When you walk into Joe’s condo on the north side of Chicago, you wouldn’t notice anything different about it, which is exactly what makes it interesting.

It’s striking because Joe is wheelchair-bound. His spinal column is injured near the middle of his abdomen, so he can’t move his legs and sometimes has trouble stabilizing his trunk if he leans out too far. I knew this when I walked up the flights of stairs to his condo, so I expected everything to be at or below seat-level around his place. I was excited that I was wrong.

Joe is lucky enough to have a specially designed “standing chair,” as he calls it, to move around in. The standing chair has a blocking bar that presses against his shins, allowing him to lift his body into a standing position, trusting that the bar will keep him from falling out of place.

Having the ability to stand and interact at eye level with not only his surroundings but also the people in his life is invaluable to Joe. When he is standing, people don’t see the chair, since they don’t see his legs first — standing upright is Joe’s shortcut to letting everyone, including himself at times, forget about his paralysis.

Around the house, Joe only pushes himself into a standing position if he needs to reach the top shelf or if he wants to work at the counter for a while. The standing chair really gets a workout at social events, or when Joe meets new people. He pulls himself upright whenever possible: One practiced, fluid motion and Joe is no longer in his chair.

Joe says that one of the most difficult hurdles he had to overcome when he recovered from his crash was the simple action of looking upward to interact with everyone. He points to the standing chair, and the physical regimen he keeps in order to ensure the stability and strength of his legs as key to his confidence level and his (very) active social life.