Compact wheelchair lifts allow mezzanine and second floor accessfor those with mobility challenges
For managers of high-end shopping centers tasked with meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), offering full access to all elevated areas can be quite a challenge.
Often the shopping centers consist of storefronts, restaurants and entertainment venues on various floors and levels. Such areas can be indoor or outdoor and range from entrances, exits, and walkways to elevated plazas, atriums, mezzanines, and second floors not served by a traditional escalator or elevator. In such cases, ramps, escalators, and one-floor elevators can frequently be too costly and space inefficient, particularly in lightly used areas, to be feasible.
Although wheelchair lifts are available to assist those with mobility issues, unenclosed lifts are usually limited to a 60-inch or less maximum vertical lift, which is sufficient for some entrances and exits, but not a mezzanine or second floor.
Now, however, industry advances promise quieter, ADA compliant wheelchair lifts that offer extended vertical reach, easy installation, as well as dignity to their users while preserving an elegant shopping or dining experience for other patrons.
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, elevated area requires a 48-foot long ramp. This is impractical in space restricted areas, especially for second floors or mezzanines in some retail outlets, as well as in many stores and restaurants. 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 6 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.
Many lifts are also often enclosed in sheet metal or blocked by machine cabinets installed on the side of the unit. Besides being unattractive, the sheet metal limits visibility and can challenge those who feel claustrophobic in enclosed spaces. It also makes it more difficult to monitor the safety of those using the lift.
Finally, some lifts generate a loud, grinding sound as a result of the screw or worm gear drives utilized. This detracts from the overall ambiance of the space and can be unpleasant to guests or patrons. It also puts an unwelcome focus on those using the lift.
Fortunately, high-end shopping center managers and their tenants are finding that design improvements in extended rise wheelchair lifts are making ADA access safer, as well as more conducive to a more refined shopping and dining experience, with less intrusive renovation or demolition required.
Advanced lifts such as the Clarity 16E by Ascension, a wheelchair lift manufacturer based in Tucson, AZ, can quietly reach heights up to 168-inches and mounts directly on the floor with no demolition required.
Unlike excessively loud wheelchair lifts utilizing screw or worm gear drives, the lift uses a chain hydraulic drivetrain and vibration-isolating supports, which significantly reduce noise. When rising, for instance, the unit is about as loud as normal conversation (62dB @ 3 feet), and it is virtually silent when descending (< 2dB @ 3 feet). This takes the spotlight off of those using the lifts, while preserving the ambiance that customers of luxury shopping and dining destinations seek.
For tight renovation spaces, the lift’s narrow 48-inch wide footprint is also a benefit, because it allows the unit to fit into existing structures without tearing down walls. This is possible due to a design where the machine cabinet mounts against the upper landing face wall, not the sides, making it at least 6 to 8 inches narrower than traditional lifts.
Safety and accessibility is enhanced as well, since the fully enclosed vertical wheelchair lift mounts directly on the floor with a very slim profile platform only 1/2-inch thick. This allows the person in the wheelchair, or using an assistive device, to safely and easily enter at floor level without requiring a foldout entry ramp.
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 sight lines in and out of the lift as well. This creates a more open, less enclosed feeling for those using the lift and enables better visual monitoring of those using it for safety.
Additionally, the transparency of the lift allows those using it to view their surroundings with a feeling of spaciousness.
Another safety feature included with the system is an ADA-compliant hands-free phone with auto dialer for two-way communication from the platform.
Beyond safe, quiet ADA compliance, high-end retail managers will want to know that the wheelchair lift they depend on is built to last with minimal maintenance. While the industry typically offers a 1 to 3 year warranty on lift drivetrains, some advanced lifts such as Ascension’s now carry a standard drive train warranty of 20 years with 5 years on all other parts, which ensures better equipment longevity. Unlike lifts with screw drives that require re-greasing, the advanced lifts do not require any routine maintenance.
As owners and managers of deluxe retail properties, as well as architects and renovation contractors look to be ADA compliant and meet the needs of all members of the community, compact wheelchair lifts will help them to safely meet access requirements in a distinguished manner that compliments the premium experience their patrons seek.
For more info, call 800-459-0400; email firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www. ascension-lift.com; or write to Ascension at 3526 E. Fort Lowell Rd., Tucson, AZ 85716.