For wheelchair users, navigating vertical platforms or stairs can be something of an impossibility, but this shouldn’t mean that they are excluded from being able to access certain areas of the home or a public space.
The good news is that a wheelchair platform lift can be a viable and practical solution for this problem, yet there are a lot of things to consider before installing this type of equipment.
Whether you are planning to purchase a wheelchair platform lift for a domestic or commercial property you need to be sure that all of these factors are considered.
In this guide, we will be looking at what a wheelchair platform lift is and how it works, as well as exploring the things that should be taken into account when purchasing one.
What is a Wheelchair Platform Lift?
A wheelchair platform lift is a device that is designed to assist wheelchair users in accessing platforms or floors that are higher than the ground level. There are two types of platform lifts – one which is installed on a staircase and rises at an incline and another which is designed to lift the user vertically.
In contrast, a home elevator is a product that is installed in the home to aid those with limited mobility in accessing all floors. This is similar in design to an elevator that you would see in a commercial building or apartment block, for example. It is important to distinguish the two solutions from one another in order to avoid confusion.
Whereas a home elevator might take the user over larger distances, a wheelchair platform lift is designed to move the user over a much shorter distance.
Benefits of a Platform Lift
Using a wheelchair platform lift can be extremely beneficial to people who struggle to access certain areas of the home. There are many ways in which these pieces of equipment are advantageous from easy installation to their compact nature, they are, without a doubt, a device that will make life easier.
An Alternative to a Wheelchair Ramp
Wheelchair ramps are certainly an excellent choice for inclines that are not overly steep but these would pose a danger if installed on a much steeper incline. Therefore, a wheelchair platform lift makes a more practical solution. Furthermore, if the access required is of a vertical nature, a ramp would be completely impractical and impossible to use.
In some buildings, there may not be the space to install a ramp even if the incline is not very steep. For this reason, using a wheelchair platform lift is preferable thanks to their compact nature.
Easy to Install
In a similar way that fitting a stairlift, for example, is easy and does not require any costly or invasive building work, a wheelchair platform lift is simple and easy to install.
There will be no need for permanent changes to the structure of the building so this might be very beneficial if you are only going to be remaining in your home for a short period of time or only require the equipment on a temporary basis.
Takes Up Minimal Space
By design, platform lifts are extremely compact and convenient. This is excellent for those who are limited on space but also a great solution in general as the lift will not pose as an obstacle for other stair users.
Many wheelchair platform lifts can be folded away against the wall when they are not in use so are not only great space savers but also pose no risk of tripping or colliding with them.
The lives of many wheelchair users are a struggle because they rely on other people to help them get to various parts of the house, or if there are stairs to tackle outside, they may even rely on others to leave the home.
By installing a wheelchair platform lift the user will be able to be a lot more independent and will be able to come and go from their home more easily. There is sufficient evidence to show that having a greater sense of independence can have a direct and positive impact on mental health.
Types of Platform Lifts
Vertical Platform Lift (VPL)
A vertical platform lift is designed to assist the user in moving between two points above and below one another. They are for use over shorter distances, and are often used in commercial spaces but can be used as a domestic solution to cover distances that are not as lengthy as a set of stairs.
The great thing about VPLs is that they can be installed either indoors or outdoors so are a very versatile piece of equipment. If the wheelchair user has a porch that they find difficult to navigate then a vertical wheelchair lift can be an excellent aide.
Incline Platform Lift (IPL)
In areas where an elevator or ramp cannot be installed due to limitations on space or other factors, an incline wheelchair lift can be fitted to a staircase to help wheelchair users gain access to higher floors.
They are ideal if a ramp would be too steep and can be used inside and out so can provide a range of solutions in different spaces. Incline wheelchair lifts make a great addition to both public buildings and homes and are easy to install.
Features to Consider When Choosing a Platform Lift
If you are considering installing a platform lift, it is important that you think about how and where the lift will be used. This will enable you to make the correct choice, as well as choosing something that is going to be safe and provide the user with the most benefit.
Outdoor or Indoor Use?
Fortunately, most wheelchair platform lifts have been designed with both outdoor and indoor use in mind but there are still some that aren’t. For this reason, it is important to check with the manufacturer to ensure that the lift you are selecting will meet your requirements.
A lot of outdoor lifts are extremely hard-wearing and are able to be used in even the harshest weather conditions making them ideal for outdoor use in any climate or location.
If you are planning to install an incline wheelchair platform lift then it pays to think about the shape of the staircase. Whilst many staircases feature a simple up and down design, there are some which are curved or have right-angle turns.
Thanks to the railing on which the lift is fitted, there is an option to have a custom made lift that can be designed to perfectly fit your stairs, but you should discuss this with the supplier and installation team prior to making a final decision.
Wheelchair platform lifts come with a variety of power options and your needs will determine which option will work best for you.
The lift can be connected to the mains power which could be a good choice for wheelchair users who live alone – this will prevent the user from having to charge batteries which may be difficult. However, the disadvantage of this type of power is that if there is a power outage, the lift will be rendered useless, for this reason, it is worth investing in a battery pack for use in emergencies.
On the other hand, you may opt for a battery-operated unit which will not rely on the mains power. It does mean that you will need to ensure the batteries remain charged for uninterrupted use.
When we think about the load capacity of a wheelchair lift, it is important to take into consideration that the lift will not only be carrying the user but their wheelchair and any other necessary equipment as well. For this reason, you should choose a lift that is generous enough to accommodate all of these things.
Most platform lifts come with a very good load capacity, some of which go up to 1500lbs so make a great choice for larger users or those who require large amounts of additional equipment. However, it is always important to check with the manufacturer to ensure the correct load capacity is selected, this will also ensure the safe use of the lift and prevent accidents from occurring.
The lifting height needs to be measured before installing the wheelchair lift and this is usually done by measuring the floor to ceiling height if you are installing indoors. However, if the lift is for outdoor use then either the stair or floor height must be measured.
A wheelchair lift will come with a lift height – the smallest starting at 24 inches and then ranging all the way up to 14 feet so it is important to check that you are purchasing a lift that will meet your needs. You should always opt for a lift that is a size larger than the lifting height you measured as purchasing a shorter lift will not allow you to reach where you need to be.
Wheelchair lifts can either be accessed with a straight through feature or there are adjacent access lifts – the width of these two platforms is not the same. An adjacent lift will require more space since it is wider owing to the access point. No matter what kind of lift you choose, it is vital that the access space is wide enough to easily fit the wheelchair through. Be sure to take ample measurements to get this right.
Furthermore, you should ensure that the platform size will be wide and deep enough to comfortably accommodate the wheelchair.
In addition to the wheelchair being able to easily fit inside the lift, it is important that you factor in the space that the user will need to adjust their position so leaving a little free space is essential.
Whilst wheelchair lifts are a space-saving alternative when compared to ramps, they will require some space and so looking at the available room you have is a must before committing to a purchase.
For example if you are fitting a wheelchair lift to a stairway that has sharp turns, it may be beneficial to speak to the supplier about finding a more compact model that will still meet your needs. There are plenty of options available for smaller spaces such as lifts that do not require bulky pieces of equipment.
Of course, you will also need to ensure that there is enough space at either end of the space for the wheelchair user to get in and out of the lift. It can be extremely advantageous to have a professional come and take measurements who can also work with you to find an accessibility solution that fits in with your available space.
There are three main types of drive system that are used with wheelchair platform lifts – screw drive, hydraulic and guided chains. One of the first things to think about is that screw drives are not compatible with battery operated lifts so if you have opted for this power type, this drive system will have to be eliminated from your choices.
That being said, whilst a hydraulic drive system will work well with a battery operated lift, they can be a little more pricey, so it pays to think about your budget and be flexible in making compromises if needed. This system will also give a smoother ride and this is something else that should be taken into account when selecting your drive system.
The space that you will need for each drive system will depend on the type that you use, for example, if you opt for a hydraulic system, there must be ample space to store the fluid tank.
One of, if not the most important factors to think about when installing a wheelchair platform lift is the safety of the user – this is paramount above all else. If a lift cannot be used safely, then it should not be used at all.
Your lift will come with various safety features depending on the manufacturer, but there are certain features that you should be looking out for.
An emergency stop button is vital, but other operation safety features such as making the lift key operated to prevent children playing with it can be invaluable. You might also add a remote control for easy operation for both the user or an assistant.
Some lifts come installed with a safety sensor that will alert you to any obstructions which could cause an accident or injury and furthermore, you will find many designs that have a non-slip surface to ensure good grip and prevent the user slipping. In addition to this safe surface, some models come with safety flaps.
A great feature of certain wheelchair lifts is an in-cab telephone which is ideal for users who live alone, especially in an emergency situation.
The average cost of installing a wheelchair platform list is around $5000, but of course, this can vary greatly depending on any additional features that you might have installed.
Your budget should be taken into serious consideration when choosing a lift. You want to be sure that you are getting the best possible equipment without going over what you can comfortably afford.
It may also be worth talking to your supplier about a payment plan if you feel that this is something that will help you in getting a suitable piece of equipment.
In the U.S., for the most part, many disabled or eldlerly people may be covered by Medicaid so it is worth looking at whether you can get assistance with this. Furthermore, for veterans there is a program which is run by the VBA through which you are able to obtain financial assistance for mobility aids such as a platform lift.
For people who struggle to access certain floors or raised platforms either in the home or in a public space, a wheelchair lift can be life-changing. With two different types of lift to choose from – the vertical or the incline lift, a versatile variety of areas can be made accessible.
It is, however, important to think about the intended use of the lift, and the needs of the wheelchair user as this will ensure that you are able to source and install a product that will be beneficial.
Varying widths, lifts for outdoor use and important safety features are just some of the things that you should take into account when shopping for a wheelchair platform lift.