Delivering the fully accessible dream

Alastair Stannah, managing director of Stannah Lifts, looks at the development of accessible lifts over recent decades and the options now available to specifiers.

As a lift supplier with a 150 year history, accessibility has always been .our business. However from when the first lift was installed in London in 1860 until the 1990s, they were considered luxuries, not necessities.

Attitudes to disability began to change after WW2 and saw the hidden segregation of disabled people start to reduce. Slowly and surely, supported by legislation and education over the decades, ‘access for everyone’ has become the ultimate goal today.

The rate of progress quickened in 1980s when the Building Regulation Part M (England and Wales – first introduced in 1985) and Part S (Scotland), began to prescribe how to achieve ‘access for all’ in new and refurbishment building projects for public access.

The 1990s saw the first Parliamentary Act covering accessibility came into force. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 was the UK’s most significant and ground- breaking legislation, which introduced and laid the foundation of our ever-increasing inclusive society. At the same time, the government programme Access to Work started with the aim to assist disabled people in getting employment.

In 2001, BS8300 – ‘Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people – code of practice’ became the main reference document for specifiers when considering disabled access. Finally the Equality Act 2010 combines all types of discrimination into one all-encompassing documentation to ensure equal treatment of every minority group.

A range of lift types have been developed to help provide access internally and exter- nally, Part M and BS8300 helping to outline best practice on specification. For vertical access, standards require firstly that where possible, passenger lifts should be the first choice. Platform lifts may be an alternative for existing buildings and for new develop- ments with constraints (e.g. a listed building or an infill site in a historic town).

If requirements for an existing building dictate, i.e. if there is no other alternative, a lift can be provided that travels over the stairs – a wheelchair platform stairlifts. This lift folds neatly away, making it ideal for awkward spaces, heritage buildings and occasional use, however great care should be given to ensure it does not conflict with fire escape requirements.

The range of access lifts has widened over the last two decades. Today the plethora of choice can be confusing, with wheelchair stairlifts, open platform lifts, fully enclosed platform lifts, cabin platform lifts with automatic buttons, and the recent introduc- tion of machinery directive passenger lifts.

On the whole, our built environment is delivering on accessibility. New buildings from the 1990s onwards have been designed to consider mobility. In new build the choice should be a fully accessible passenger lift. It offers the best life-cycle costs, providing verti- cal travel all day, every day to all building users. Exceptions may be small housing units and retail outlets.

Installations fall into two distinct areas: new build where an architect or specifier can design the most suitable lift into a building: and refurbishment where the building dictates what is possible. Progress has been much slower in providing accessibility in our heritage sector than in new builds, and the very places people with mobility issues want to visit can still provide problems. Installing a lift in existing buildings can be challenging. A platform lift has a structure instead of a shaft and has lower pit and headroom require- ments, meaning it is often easier to fit within the building fabric than a passenger lift.

Alastair Stannah is managing director of Stannah Lifts