Wheelchair & Platform Lifts, what's available, what can they do and what to look out for.
As with many things in life, wheelchair & platform lifts, or Public Access Lifts as they are known in the trade, come in a variety of guises. There are however two main distinct versions, Domestic and the true Public Access version.
Domestic versions are the kind that you would buy to get your Aunty Elsie, with wheelchair, up the steps to the front door, or from the living room up to the bedroom.
Public Access versions are simply larger, more hard wearing products designed to be installed in, or at the entrance to, public buildings eg. stores, restaurants, office reception etc. where stairs prevent wheelchair users from having the same movement between floors as more able bodied people or customers. This is now a legal requirement in most buildings since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
For Domestic requirements the regulations regarding the size of the platform and the "on board" facilities and options are slightly more relaxed, this is because these lifts are designed for use by one or two people who will use the product on a fairly regular basis, who will be shown how to use the lift safely, and who will have been assessed to determine their exact requirements and levels of mobility and understanding. There are three types of lift available, first there is the "through floor lift" which sits quietly in the corner of your room and which, when needed, will take you smoothly through an aperture in the ceiling into your bedroom ( these are also known as residential elevators ), second there is the "inclined platform lift", which is simply a stairlift capable of carrying a wheelchair, and last there is the "vertical platform lift" used for short vertical rises of up to 1 or 2 meters, as found at entrances to some houses (these are also known as step lifts ) and can be mounted at the side of a small flight of steps to take the user from ground to upper level whilst leaving the steps clear for other users. The first option is predominantly for indoor use only, whilst the second and last types are suitable for indoor and outdoor installation.
For Public requirements the residential elevator type detailed above are not available, however the vertical platform lift takes on a new dimension. Travel is available up to twelve meters and over, with up to 6 floors being served. This type of unit is often installed within it's own free standing custom built enclosure (shaft), in fact a full enclosure is currently a legal requirement where floor to floor travel exceeds 2 meters.
As these units are designed for use by untrained members of the public they must comply with Part M Building Regulations, the basic requirements relate to a minimum platform size of 1000 mm x 1400 mm for unattended wheelchair passengers and 1100 mm x 1400 mm where a passenger is accompanied (this will be the majority of cases), visual and audible floor level indicators, arrival tones, external emergency alarm and a communication device linked to a telephone line (this is usually an autodialer linked to the alarm button). Options should include automatic door openers, emergency lowering and lighting and an overload warning system.
There are many national and international manufacturers and their local agents willing to supply and install platform lifts of all sizes and drive systems, however here are a few guidelines when selecting a product or supplier.
- Check that the equipment has been "type tested" by a Notified body , if so it will be CE APPROVED and will bear the CE label.
- Check that the supplier will also service and maintain the equipment, if so have they been trained by the manufacturer. If not does the manufacturer have a local agent who will carry this out for you.
- Will the supplier visit you to ascertain your exact requirements and to ensure that the finished product will meet the requirements of Part M.
- Will your supplier liaise with your building contractor to ensure any preparatory building works are carried out correctly and to schedule, this item and the one above should be free of charge.
Can the supplier show you a working example of the product that you are interested in.
If the answer to any of the above points is no, then look elsewhere.
If you are looking to save a couple of £k, and you need more than 1 lift, then it is certainly worth applying to become an "agent" of one of the major manufacturers. You will of course have to attend a training course (this should be free) but if you approach a decent supplier they will provide an engineer to help you carry out the installation, testing and commissioning of the product, or will advise you of a fully trained installer who can carry out this work for you. This means that you will buy at "trade" prices and cut out the middle man who will certainly be adding a substantial mark up for his profit margins, even after paying for the installation.
I will be adding more info to this guide, as time permits, however if anyone has a more specific question please feel free to contact me via e-bay, and I'll do my best to help. If you have a specific question or set of circumstances and you want advice on the types of lift, approximate costs, or even who makes and sells what, feel free to ask via e-bay.