Lifts to Upper Levels of Schools Need to be Quiet and Dignified

One challenge for K-12 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 are limited to a 60-inch or less maximum vertical lift, which is sufficient for 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. 

Access Alternatives

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-inch high stage requires a 48-foot long ramp. This is impractical in space restricted older buildings, especially for mezzanine and second floor access. Besides being unsightly, 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 six inches 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 very 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 the educational environment.

Fortunately, school facility managers are finding that design improvements in extended rise wheelchair lifts are making ADA access safer, easier, and more inclusive, with less intrusive renovation to existing structures.

Unlike excessively loud wheelchair lifts utilizing screw or worm gear drives, some advanced lifts use an electro hydraulic drivetrain and vibration-isolating supports, which significantly reduce noise to take the spotlight off of those using the lifts and preserve educational decorum.

Some, like the Clarity 16E by Ascension, are fully enclosed vertical wheelchair lifts that can reach heights up to 168-inches, mount directly on the floor, which means there is no need for an equipment pit under the lift and no floor demolition is required, which is particularly important for historic structures or venues.

For tight renovation spaces, a lift with a narrow footprint can also mean the difference between a painless installation and major wall demolition to squeeze in the new lift. One important safety feature included with these systems is that some are equipped with an ADA-compliant hands-free phone for two-way communication from the platform.

Beyond safe, quiet ADA compliance, facility managers will want to know that the wheelchair lifts they depend on require minimal maintenance. While the industry typically offers a 1 to 3 year warranty on lift drivetrains, some advanced lifts now carry a standard drive train warranty of 20 years, which ensures better equipment longevity. 

As educators look to be ADA compliant and meet the needs of all of their students, extended rise wheelchair lifts will help them to safely meet access requirements in a dignified manner for a wider range of structures and facilities.

About the Author

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, CA. He writes about business, technology, health, and educational issues.

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