Wheelchair lifts often referred to as inclined platform lifts (IPL) or vertical platform lifts (VPL), can be a great addition to the homes of people with limited mobility. By lifting wheelchairs, standing passengers with walkers, and other devices up a flight of stairs, powered wheelchair lifts help adults with disabilities stay independent and in their own homes. This can extend the time a senior has in their own home (rather than an assisted living community) by years, and it can help seniors return home from nursing care facilities much sooner than would otherwise be possible.
You don’t want just any lift, however. As with many mobility devices, wheelchair lifts come with a wide range of different features, and it’s important to pick one that works for you. You want to be especially careful about your lift’s safety features. Whichever model you settle on, make sure your wheelchair lift has these eight safety features.
- Onboard Controls
Onboard controls are the first safety feature every wheelchair lift or inclined platform lift needs to have. With a simple, easy-to-use control panel in your hands, lap, or the arm of the lift, you can control the lift’s ascent or descent. Otherwise, you may have to depend on a caregiver or other person at the controls mounted to the wall at the top or bottom of the rails. Some units also run automatically along their entire length once activated. This is usually fine, but for safety, you should have a panel that lets you override the automatic system.
- Overspeed Governor
Wheelchair lifts and VPLs rise under their own power, usually with a small electric motor mounted underneath the platform. These motors vary in power, but they are usually strong enough to lift an adult in a chair weighing up to 400-750 or more combined pounds. When less weight is put on the platform, a powerful motor might deliver uneven speed, or worse — it can sometimes rise too fast for the rider’s comfort. Wheelchair lifts should have overspeed governors that lock them into a maximum lift speed of a few feet per second. This helps keep the ride safe and smooth regardless of the load.
- Nonskid Surface
All wheelchair lifts carry their riders in their chairs without making them transfer over to a folding seat. Wheelchairs generally have locking mechanisms that can keep their wheels from turning during the ride, but the wheels themselves might have limited traction. Make sure your lift has a solid nonskid surface that adds traction and keeps the chair steady. If your lift doesn’t come with a textured surface, you can add high-traction safety tape to the platform in roughly the spot where the wheels go.
- Emergency Stop
Wheelchair lifts and IPLs generally have a smooth ride up and down the stairwell. Mounted on a sturdy rail, it is rare for the lift to bump into an obstacle or other hazard on a short trip up a flight of stairs. Your lift should still have an emergency stop function, however, and it should let you safely bring the ride to a halt if you spot a pet or a grandchild’s toy in the way. By pressing the emergency stop, you disengage the powertrain and gently apply the brakes to come to a stop that’s rapid but not jarring. In many communities, an emergency stop feature is required in all lifts as part of the building code.
- Obstruction or Underpanel Sensors
An emergency stop is only as useful as your ability to spot hazards and act in time. Because not everybody is 100% alert at all times (especially in their own homes or at night) many wheelchair lifts are equipped with a sophisticated obstruction sensor. These sensors act on different principles: Some of them use optical sensors to identify obstructions on the stairs or in the rail; others use infrared sensors or even sonic sensors to scan ahead for obstacles that could make your ride unsafe. Once an obstruction is detected, the lift should gradually slow to a stop and let you move the debris out of the way before moving on. In some cases, the lift can abort the climb and return safely to the bottom of the stairs to avoid obstruction.
- Ramps – Self-Lowering and Folding
Some wheelchair lifts have self-lowering ramps. These lifts work by easing themselves forward in order to lie flush with the floor at the end of the run. Because of the variation in installation sites and techniques, not all systems form a good seal at the top or bottom of their runs. This can create a trip hazard or leave a lip that makes it hard to board the ramp. Ideally, the ramp on your lift can extend somewhat after a trip to set its edge flush with the carpet or tile. The mechanism for this usually isn’t overly complicated — often it’s just a tension rod or a small cable that pulls the lip of the ramp downward, giving you a smooth roll-off.
Your lift should have a ramp that folds up and out of the way while it is not in use. Since even the busiest lifts still spend most of their time waiting for a rider to get on them, most of the time they need to be out of the way of foot traffic up and down the stairs. A folding ramp will either fold up on its own using the same power system that levels it out in use, or it can be manually lifted out of the way.
- Gate Interlock System
Wheelchair lifts usually have a rail that helps keep riders in place during trips up and down the stairs. These rails open with a gate, which may open outward or upward, depending on the model. This gate should close and lock with a sturdy interlock system. A gate interlock system closes with a latch and seals with a strong magnetic bond to prevent the gate from coming loose during transit. At the end of the ride, the seal breaks, and you can open the gate to get off.
- Backup Battery
Wheelchair lifts are almost always powered by a home’s electrical system. The motor is connected by wires through the drive unit, which may or may not be hardwired directly into your home’s wiring. While this is fine most of the time, you need an independent backup power system so the lift can keep running in case the power goes out. Having a backup battery mounted under the lift leaves you with enough charge to finish the run-up or down the stairs. These batteries are usually fairly compact and don’t add much weight to the lift, so they aren’t a major drain on the lift’s power. Between uses, they take their charge from the regular house wiring.
Day Elevator & Lift has wheelchair lifts and a host of vertical/inclined platform lifts that meet a high standard for safety and comfort. If you need a lift for your home, call us at (800) 758-5438 or fill out our online contact form to speak with one of our professional installers. We can also help you schedule an inspection and get a price quote for your new wheelchair lift system.