One challenge for K-12 and university facility managers tasked to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been offering full access to elevated areas on campus. These areas can range from stages and raised platforms to theater, auditorium, library, administrative offices, and student centers with mezzanines or second floors not served by a traditional elevator. In such cases, ramps and one-floor elevators often require too much space to be feasible, particularly in older buildings.
Although wheelchair lifts are available to assist those with mobility issues, most of these are limited to a 60″ or less maximum vertical lift, which is sufficient to reach a stage, but not a second floor. For lift platforms that are capable of reaching higher, many are poorly designed and disruptive, too tightly enclosed for those uncomfortable in small spaces, and require demolition of floors or walls to hide internal lift machinery.
Now, however, industry advances promise quieter, ADA compliant wheelchair lifts that offer extended vertical reach as well as dignity to their users with minimal installation requirements.
If there is enough floor space, building a ramp is probably the simplest solution for providing access to those using wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes, or other assistive devices. However, ramps typically need to be one foot long for every inch of vertical gain, so a 48″ high stage requires a 48′ long ramp. This is impractical in space-restricted older buildings, especially for mezzanine and second floor access. Ramps can also be difficult to navigate due to the incline.
Installing a traditional elevator is another option, but can be costly and usually requires both overhead clearance for a machine room and demolition to flooring to put machinery below. For these reasons, a dedicated elevator that only goes up one floor is generally not cost-effective or feasible unless access to multiple floors is required.
Although extended rise wheelchair lifts are a good alternative, traditional devices have a number of drawbacks. Most require up to 6″ of machinery underneath so require demolition of the floor to create the space to hide machinery, or placing it in a raised platform above the floor with a flip down ramp, or sometimes both.
Because some lift machine cabinets stand on the side of the unit and may even have sheet metal all the way around, this also limits visibility in and out of the unit, which can be a problem for anyone claustrophobic or educators who must monitor students for safety.
Typical lifts operating with screw or worm gear drives can also be noisy and disruptive. The devices can generate a loud, grinding sound similar to a high-speed drill or trash compactor. This not only puts an unwelcome focus on those using the lift, but also detracts from an educational environment.
One solution facility managers might consider is an extended rise wheelchair lift.
Unlike wheelchair lifts utilizing screw or worm gear drives that can be loud and disruptive in an education setting, some advanced lifts such as the Clarity 16E by Ascension, a wheelchair lift manufacturer based in Tucson, AZ, use an electro hydraulic drivetrain and vibration-isolating supports. When rising, Ascension’s Clarity 16E wheelchair lift is about as loud as normal conversation (62dB at three feet), and it is virtually silent when descending (< 2dB at three feet).
Because the Clarity 16E, a fully enclosed vertical wheelchair lift that can reach heights up to 168″, mounts directly on the floor this means that no equipment pit under the lift and no floor demolition is required — particularly important for historic facilities. Since the lift mounts directly on the floor with a very slim profile platform only 1/2″ thick, the person in the wheelchair or using an assistive device also safely and easily enters at floor level without requiring a cumbersome fold-out entry ramp.
For tight renovation spaces, a lift with a narrow footprint can also mean the difference between a simple installation and major wall demolition. In this regard, the 48″ wide footprint of the Clarity 16E allows the device to fit into existing structures. This is possible because the machine cabinet mounts up against the wall, not the sides, making it at least 6″ to 8″ narrower than traditional lifts.
Because no side tower is required, the drive system attaches directly to the landing face, and the enclosure uses transparent panels which leave three sides clear for better sightlines in an out of the lift.
Another safety feature included with Clarity 16E is an ADA-compliant hands-free phone with auto dialer for two-way communication from the platform.
As school facility managers look to maintain ADA compliance and meet needs of all of their students, extended rise wheelchair lifts will help them to safely meet access requirements in a dignified manner.