Lifting Lives: Entrepreneurs Innovate Wheelchairs that Rise

(3BL Media and Just Means) - I’ve lived most of my life seeing the view from six feet, one inch. My mother swears I was born this tall. Balding heads, cracked ceilings and cobwebs are my normal view. I’ve had unwelcome nicknames like “Amazon,” “Flagpole” (the meaning of my German surname, Fahnestock), and daily I’m asked if I play for the WNBA. So, I’ve never thought about what it might be like to lack the ability to reach the tallest grocery shelf or be unable to sit at a bar with my friends or share direct eye contact with my husband. But this is the reality of the millions of people who use wheelchairs. Of course, they and their loved ones adapt to make life easier and objects more reachable.  But, what if there was a way for wheelchair users to go to their favorite concert and not worry that they won’t be able to see the band?

Levaté Lift is working to do just that. What began as a project by a group of engineering students for the Agile Product Design competition through the University of Oklahoma's Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth has developed into a viable product. Levaté Lift created a lightweight, portable, and easily detachable pneumatic lift for manual wheelchair users that increases their reach by 12-18 inches. Made from welded aluminum, plastic and carbon fiber, the entire wheelchair raises up, not only the seat—a feature that makes it completely different from their competitors. Through several rounds of prototyping and beta testing, Levaté Lift designed the lift to meet the exact needs of wheelchair users.

“Before we spent time to build a fully functioning lift, we asked wheelchair users many questions. What’s it like to be lifted up? How do they want to be lifted up? How can we design it in a way that is tailored to their needs?” explained Co-Founder of Levaté Lift, Dillon Carroll.

The team of engineers brought in wheelchair users to test each prototype, strapping weights to the bottom of the chair to test the impact of weight on the chair and the user.

“We attached five, ten and fifteen pounds and ask each person if they could feel it. Then we stacked copy paper under cushions to simulate being lifted from the seat,” said Carroll.

Founders Dillon Carroll and Ethan van Meter wanted the lift to meet the needs of the user from day one. They spoke with dozens of wheelchair users, every one of them saying that what they wanted most from a lift was independence.  

“We heard many stories from people about how when they go to the grocery store, they always need to bring their wife and kids. Everyone wants to feel independent. We all want the ability to take care of ourselves and be independent,” said Carroll.

Recently, Levaté Lift partnered with Soulcake Creative, a boutique product design company in California, who Carroll believes will make the lift scalable for manufacturing.

“They will take what we’ve done and do all the detailed engineering work. They’ll build a fully functioning device which is also aesthetically pleasing. We will continue to work with them to produce eight to ten beta units and then later, prepare to scale for manufacturing,” says Carroll.

In order to fund their work with Soulcake Creative, Levaté Lift is raising $30,000 on Kickstarter. They have the support of Mary Beth Davis, Ms. Wheelchair Oklahoma 2014, and are looking to partner with angel investors in the next few months. Take a look at this video to learn more and then in the spirit of Thanksgiving, send a few or several dollars their way.

Support Levaté Lift’s Kickstarter Campaign. Read more about Levaté Lift. Read about their partner Soulcake Creative.