After the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations were enacted in the early 1990s, buyers began to look for low-cost, quick solutions to comply with the law. This desire to install any product that met minimum code and standards meant that good performance and reliability were rare. Because of the poor quality of the average platform lift, the government enacted debilitating regulations on the entire elevator industry. Platform lifts became the pariah of the industry and a last resort. Of course, in some situations a ramp or a full-size commercial elevator is appropriate, but the trend today is to avoid platform lifts at all costs! The buyers sought to fulfill the minimum requirements of the law with a cheap lift because they believed it would never be used. This negativity became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The commercial platform-lift industry and products still suffer under a bad reputation. Low-quality products, inadequate installations and lack of maintenance have caused many lifts to fail and fall into disuse, often just months after installation. I believe there is hope to reverse this trend, but it is up to accessibility contractors like Handi-Lift to consider the needs of the end user during the contracting process. We use the following diagram to illustrate our mission of Accessibility with Dignity:
Accessibility contractors, like elevator contractors, spend a significant amount of time with architects, designers and consultants assisting in the design process. The architects usually focus on design and aesthetics. We take this opportunity to promote quality products and customized lifts, as well as serviceability and functionality. The better we design and specify the right product, features, and options, the more successful the application. Unfortunately, when we see an "X" on a plan where a lift should be, boiler plate specifications downloaded off the Internet, and little time spent on the details, we see a very poor result. Working with the architect is critical, but not enough on its own for Accessibility with Dignity.
Some building owners are under pressure to keep projects on time and on budget and can’t devote time to every trade. Some just want to get the ADA police off their backs. All building owners should be very concerned about the end result of the project and long-term serviceability and usability of the lift, but often do not research the best accessibility solutions for their constituents.
General contractors, construction managers and developers have their own agenda. They want the lift done quickly and cheaply, but have little patience for the details. A good accessibility contractor has to balance the needs of these three parties and attend to the needs of the customer who is paying the bills. The buyer’s concern for cost effectiveness, speed and code compliance are legitimate, but we need to communicate that low price does not mean cost effective. Most importunely, we need to make them aware of the end user's needs.
The people who actually use lifts are rarely even involved in the purchase of lifts for commercial buildings. Their need, which often gets overlooked, is to feel as confident riding a platform lift as he or she would a commercial elevator. A platform lift must be quiet, reliable, stable, simple and attractive.
- Lifts must be quiet. Folks who use a wheelchair or have difficulty with stairs do not want ride a loud, clunky lift that calls attention to their mobility challenge. A friend of mine told me the story of a woman using a wheelchair who attended her daughter's school play. After it was over, she and the other parents were invited up on stage for an award ceremony. She had exit the theater, go out into the corridor and use a lift behind the stage. The lift was horribly loud, and when the mother rolled out on stage everyone in the audience wondered what had happened behind the curtain. At the end of the ceremony, her daughter told her, “Mommy, don’t ever come to school and embarrass me like that again.”
- Lifts must be reliable. They are not used as frequently as elevators, so they must be more reliable per ride than commercial elevators. Lifts tend to sit idle for months and then have to work perfectly ten times in one day. One bad experience on a lift that is used only once a month makes a worse impression than one bad experience on an elevator that is used hundreds of times each day.
- Lifts must be stable and simple. A solid ride and easy controls make people feel confident and calm.
- Lifts must be attractive. They should match the building aesthetic, not be hidden in closets or look like a trash compactor in the lobby. Custom colors, glass, and stainless-steel or wood accents help a lift blend into its surroundings.
The challenge for the accessibility contractor is to take the time and make the effort to raise the bar from from meeting minimum standards to Accessibility with Dignity. With a higher standard of quality, our industry can grow and develop, and end users will actually benefit from our work. We don’t settle for selling lifts that meet minimum design and code standards. We sell lifts that our parents, siblings, and friends would be proud to ride.
Doug Boydston founded Handi-Lift, Inc. with his parents in 1975 and became President of the company in 1990. Mr. Boydston is a Past President of National Association of Elevator Contractors and past chairman of the Accessibility Committee of NAEC. He is a member of NAEC and the Accessibility Equipment Manufacturers Association. Mr. Boydston is also active in codes at the local, State and National levels and is Chair of the main committee of the ASME A18.1 Safety Standard for Platform Lifts and Stairway Chairlifts.
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