Equipment to get up and down stairs

Introduction

Once it has become difficult or impossible for someone to get up and down the stairs, there are a number of options you could consider: living downstairs, moving to a bungalow or ground floor flat, or installing a domestic lift. The first option may not be practical because although it is easy to move a bed downstairs, providing bathroom facilities can prove difficult and costly and downstairs living space will be reduced. The second option is not only costly but may result in the loss of good friends and neighbours. Installing a domestic lift is often the most practical and economical option.

The aim of this information sheet is to provide information on equipment to assist someone getting up and down stairs, and details about the useful features of different types of stairlifts to help you fund solutions that are most suitable for you.

The information contained in this document is strictly for information purposes only. There are hazards with all equipment and the suitability of any solution is totally dependent on the individual. It is strongly recommended to seek professional advice and assistance before you consider buying any type of equipment mentioned in this Information Sheet.

Supply, provision and sources of funding

Medical Card Holders

Equipment for people with disabilities, sometimes referred to as aids and appliances, is usually supplied free of charge to medical card holders. The card holder must first be assessed by the relevant therapist who can recommend and prescribe the most suitable equipment.

Long Term Illness Card Holders

People who have one of the conditions listed as qualifying under the Department of Health’s Long Term Illness Scheme may be eligible to receive items of equipment, essential for the primary condition, free of charge. Assessment by the relevant professional is required.

Hospital Treatment

People in hospital may have aids and appliances provided free of charge when they are prescribed as part of in-hospital treatment in a public hospital.

Health Insurance Schemes

The main companies offering private health insurance in Ireland are:

  • Voluntary Health Insurance (VHI)
  • Irish Life Health
  • Laya Healthcare
  • GloHealth

Some policies provide members with cover for a limited number of aids and appliances under their out-patient schemes. A list of approved appliances is available on request. A claim for the reimbursement (part or full) will be subject to a member’s out-patient excess. Medical certification is usually necessary. Contact your health insurance company’s Customer Services to check if a particular appliance is covered by your policy.

Some employers have their own special health insurance schemes which provide cover for their employees. The employee’s family is also often covered. Check with the employer to see what, if any, equipment is covered under the scheme.

Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability

The Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability may be applied for to assist in the carrying out of works that are reasonably necessary for the purposes of making a house more suitable for the accommodation of a person with a disability (who is a member of the household). This scheme replaces what was previously known as the Disabled Person's Housing Grant.

The types of works allowable under the new scheme can be varied and include the provision of access ramps, stairlifts, downstairs toilet facilities, accessible showers, adaptations to facilitate wheelchair access and extensions. In general, people who require grant aid for minor works eg ramps, grab rails, accessible showers and stairlifts, and who satisfy the means test provisions, should apply for assistance under the new Mobility Aids Grant Scheme, also administered by your local authority.

All applications for grant aid under the Housing Adaptation Grant Scheme are assessed on the basis of household means. Since November 2007, the maximum grant available under this scheme is €30,000.

How to apply
The Housing Adaptation Grant Scheme for People with a Disability is administered by your local authority. All applications must include two written itemised quotations from contractors indicating the cost of the adapation. The local authority will decide whether it is necessary to refer the application to an Occupational Therapist. This decision is based on the report of the authority's Inspector, the applicant's General Practitioner, and the long term needs of the applicant. For full details of the Housing Adaptation Grant Scheme for People with a Disability, visit citizensinformation.ie, or contact the Housing Department of your local authority.

Mobility Aids Housing Grant Scheme

The Mobility Aids Housing Grant Scheme is another grant option available for those requiring smaller changes. The scheme is designed to fast track grant aid to cover basic adaptations to address mobility problems primarily associated with ageing. The work allowed under the scheme can be varied and can include grab rails, access ramps, level access showers, and stairlifts. All applications for grant aid under the Mobility Aids Housing Grant Scheme are assessed on the basis of household means. The maximum grant is €6,000. This may cover 100% of the cost of the works and is available to those with gross annual household incomes of up to €30,000.

In cases where grant aid is required for larger work and where the cost of the work is expected to be in excess of €6,000, applicants should apply for grant aid under the Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability (see above).

How to apply
The Mobility Aids Housing Grant Scheme is administered by your local authority. All applications must include one itemised quotation from a contractor indicating the cost of the adaptation. The local authority will decide whether it is necessary to refer the application to an Occupational Therapist. This decision is based on the report of the authority's Inspector, the applicant's General Practitioner, and the long term needs of the applicant. For full details of the Mobility Aids Housing Grant Scheme, visit citizensinformation.ie, or contact the Housing Department of your local authority.

Private Purchase of Equipment

Private purchase may be necessary if the user is not eligible to obtain the necessary equipment from the local area health services. Some people may also choose to buy privately because they want the wider choice of equipment available on the private market.

The purchaser has the option of:

  • personally funding the cost of the equipment
  • applying to charities/benevolent funds etc for funding
  • buying second-hand
  • checking with your health insurance company, if a member, to see if, or what, reimbursement is available.

If you decide to buy equipment privately it is strongly recommended to seek the advice of an occupational therapist on the suitability of that equipment to your condition or situation. It is also recommended that you try out the equipment, if possible, before purchase.

Private Purchase – Applying for a VAT Refund

VAT paid on certain equipment which is privately purchased for use by a person with a disability can be reclaimed from Revenue. The relief applies to VAT on the purchase of goods which are aids and appliances designed to assist a disabled person to overcome a disability in the performance of their daily functions. Most aids to daily living and communication aids are included. Goods designed for leisure purposes are not. An invoice clearly stating the VAT content of the total amount paid must be included with the application. Contact Revenue's Central Repayments Office to request Form VAT 61a (see Useful Addresses), or you can apply online for a VAT refund using eRepayments in Revenue's myAccount service.

Assessment

Depending on the type of equipment required, a qualified therapist will assess the individual and make a recommendation to the body responsible for the provision of the equipment or to the person or agency who has requested the assessment. Generally the following applies, but the assessment process and provision may vary in different parts of the country.

  • Occupational therapists will assess for aids to daily living – these include wheelchairs, mobility aids, specialised chairs, bath, shower and toilet aids, stairlifts, hoists etc
  • Physiotherapists will assess for movement, strength and balance training equipment, walking aids and exercise devices
  • Speech and language therapists will assess for communication, speech therapy, and training aids
  • Other relevant therapists and specialists may also be involved in carrying out assessments, depending on the equipment or appliance required

All the different therapists described above are based in hospitals, community care areas, and with various voluntary agencies. For more information, contact the Community Care section of your Health Services Executive area, the relevant hospital department as appropriate, or your local authority.

Private Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists in private practice can carry out assessments in the home or workplace, and if modifications are being considered, provide a report detailing the recommendations. It is important to ensure the therapist is experienced in relation to your particular needs. Make sure to discuss fees before engaging anyone’s services, and also check what the assessment fee includes (or does not include). The profession’s representative body, the Association of Occupational Therapists in Ireland (AOTI), keeps a list of contact details of member occupational therapists working in private practice in Ireland. This list is available from the AOTI (see Useful Addresses).

Private Physiotherapists

Physiotherapists can assess for movement, strength and balance training equipment, walking aids and exercise devices and recommend accordingly. If you wish to consult a physiotherapist you can go directly to your local chartered physiotherapist or ask your GP to refer you. It is important to ensure the therapist you consult is experienced in relation to your particular needs. Chartered physiotherapists work in hospitals and in the community where treatment is covered under the public health service. They also work in private practice and can be contacted through the profession’s representative body, the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (see Useful Addresses).

If you decide to buy equipment privately it is strongly recommended to seek the advice of an appropriate therapist on the suitability of that equipment to your condition or situation. It is also recommended that you try out the equipment, if possible, before purchase.

You can also arrange to visit a supplier’s showroom (if they have one). Contact details of suppliers can be found online and most will have a website with details of their products and services which you can view online.

Sometimes suppliers organise exhibitions of different types of equipment in various locations around the country allowing people to see and try equipment. These exhibitions are often advertised in the local paper or on local radio. You can also request to be put on a supplier’s mailing list so you will be notified if there is an event being held in your area.

Some companies will give equipment for a try-out period before purchase. Enquiries should also be made about maintenance (if it will be required), maintenance contracts (if relevant) and whether a user manual is provided with the equipment (essential).

When purchasing from any supplier, it is important to remember that it is their business to sell. There may be several suppliers of that particular piece of equipment or different manufacturers of the same type of equipment, so always shop around.

Stair safety

Falls in general are the largest cause of emergency hospital admissions for older people and significantly impact on long-term outcomes.

Falls on the stairs can be caused by a combination of environmental and personal factors - for example, the state of the stair covering or clutter left on the stairs, a person’s sight or their medication affecting balance.

You can help your own or another person’s safety by making sure that:

  • you move carefully and slowly on the stairs
  • you do not get distracted when using the stairs
  • you avoid using the stairs if you feel unwell, dizzy or faint
  • you wear well-fitting shoes
  • if you have to carry something, you keep one hand free to hold the handrail, you keep the stairway well lit with a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairs, you remove any loose rugs at the top or bottom of the stairs
  • you have secure handrails at an appropriate height on both sides, ideally that contrast with the surroundings
  • you keep the stairs clear of clutter or obstacles
  • you keep stair covering in good condition.

It has been shown that an accident is more likely to occur on stairs without a carpet covering, and those with no handrails. It has also been demonstrated that a very decorative stair covering can make seeing each step more difficult, especially for those with poor eye sight.

It is recommended that you have a stair covering with good slip resistance properties and that you consider highlighting the edges of each step for those with poor sight.

If you use a walking aid, consider having one upstairs and one downstairs, to avoid carrying the aid up and downstairs. If you need the walking stick to help you get up and down the stairs, ask for a to show you how to do this properly and safely.

Stair rails

Grab rails for isolated steps
If you have places in the home where you have one or two steps, try installing a grab rail either side of these steps to give you something to hold onto as you go up and down. Fit the rail at the approximate height of your wrist when standing on the first tread, with your arm relaxed by your side. You are advised to install grab rails long enough to extend just past the top and bottom ends of the steps to provide a steady anchor/pulling point.

Long handrails
Staircases usually have a handrail on one side, although this may not extend to the full length of the staircase. It is recommended that you extend the handrail past the top and bottom of the stairs to provide a steady anchor/pulling point. Most DIY stores sell handrails which can be used to extend the existing handrail all the way up the staircase if it is required. Adding a handrail to the other side of the staircase will provide more support where needed. Long lengths of rail are available and may also be installed along corridors.

A wide range of finished hand rails are available from DIY chains for you to choose from.

It is recommended that it is run continuously from the bottom to the top of your flight of stairs, including going around the edge of any intervening landings and across window openings. The handrail should continue past the top and bottom steps by at least 300mm.

The height will depend on your needs. If on both sides, the rails should be at the same height. This is usually between 900-1000mm above the pitch line of the stairs, and 1100mm above landings.

The handrail should have a fixing at least every 1000mm and no more than 150mm from each end. It may require mounting on a pattress or backboard which is then secured to the wall.

Newel rails
Newel rails are designed to turn through 90 degrees around the newel post (the upright post of the stair banister).

They provide a continuous grip as the user reaches the bottom or top of the stairs and turns the corner and are available in a range of sizes.

Please note that left turning and right turning Newel rails are available - which one you require depends on which way your staircase turns after the newel post.

Most staircases have a handrail on one side although this may not extend to the full length of the staircase. Most DIY stores sell handrails which can be used to extend the existing handrail all the way up the staircase if it is required. Adding a handrail to the other side of the staircase will provide more support where needed.

Grab rails are only as strong as the wall to which they are fixed to, and the fixings that are used. Unfortunately many modern houses, which were built as cost-effective, thermally efficient buildings, do not have internal walls that are ideal for the installation of wall fixtures such as support rails.

If you are unsure about fixing rails in your home, you are advised to seek advice.

Things to consider when choosing a stairlift

Before deciding on the most suitable form of lift consider the following:

  • Someone with a disability who has a condition that could deteriorate should consider what the best long term solution will be. Although they may be able to use a seated stairlift now, it may be wise to consider installing a through floor lift so that in future the option to travel in a wheelchair is available
  • Does the lift need to be operated by the user, his carer or both? Controls are available to allow users and carers to operate the lift but it will be easier to have these fitted during the initial installation
  • The environment (eg doors or thresholds near the staircase, bulkheads or banister rails, radiators near the staircase)
  • Other users of the stairs eg children, pets, elderly visitors
  • It is advisable that the stairlift covers the whole staircase (eg curved stairlift or straight lift with platform). Some people will attempt to save costs by installing a straight stairlift on a curved staircase and attempt to manage the first or last few steps. However, if their condition deteriorates they will no longer be able to manage this.

Types of stairlift

Stairlifts are powered lifts mounted on stair-fixed tracks which follow the line of the stairs. The track can usually be sited on either side of the stairs. Both curved and straight tracks are available, although straight tracks are much cheaper than curved ones.

Stairlifts are often cheaper to install than through floor lifts as building alterations are not normally required. Curved stairlifts cost approximately twice as much as straight stairlifts. Stairlifts can usually be installed in a day and when necessary, can be removed if no longer required.

There are a range of designs of stairlifts, including:

  • those with a seat
  • those upon which you stand or perch
  • those with a wheelchair platform.

For each, you need to be able to get on and off the lift, to remain secure whilst on it and to be able to use the controls - unless a carer is controlling the lift for you.

Unless you are using a lift with a wheelchair platform, you will need to have reasonable body strength and stability, plus a reasonable grip, to remain safely in the lift whilst in use, especially if perching or standing. A stairlift may not be suitable for you if you experience severe uncontrollable body movements or dizziness, as this could cause you to fall from the lift. It may also not be suitable for someone with reduced cognitive ability, who may be made anxious and try to get off the lift whilst in use.

A stairlift may not be suitable for you if you are very heavy. The lifts have specific weight capacities, which are lower if the lift has to go around corners. The maximum weight limit for a standard heavy duty stairlift is generally 25 stone (160kg). Those with greater capacity may only cater for straight stairs.

It is advisable that the stairlift covers the whole staircase. If your staircase has a sub-landing at the top, with a few steps to the left or right, some companies may suggest fitting a manual or motorised folding platform which bridges the gap between the top of the stairlift and the landing. This can lead to problems, e.g. if the platform is down and someone else tries to walk up the stairs.

If you have a staircase consisting of two straight flights of stairs with a landing area between them, it may be cheaper to purchase two straight stairlifts instead of a curved one, as long as you can transfer between them.

Walking sticks may usually be carried on a stairlift with care. If you use a larger walking aid, it should not be carried on the stairlift. Two aids will be required - one at the bottom and one at the top of the stairs.

Seated stairlifts

These tend to be the most common type of stairlift used in a domestic setting. They transport you up and down the stairs whilst seated, suiting those with reduced mobility and/or standing tolerance.

A minimum staircase width of about 750mm (29") is required by most individuals if they are to use a stairlift safely and in comfort.

To see if you will have enough room for a stairlift, place a chair at the very bottom of your stairs, with the chair back against the wall. Sit yourself on the chair, with your bottom as far back on the seat as you comfortably can. You can then see how much space you will have for your feet and knees if you have a stairlift installed. Most seats face sideways, but if you have a stiff knee, or a narrow staircase, you may need to face forwards to give you more room. Check with your supplier, as some stairlifts are available with seats which face forwards. If you find it difficult to bend your knees, making your feet stick out, you may prefer to look at a perching or standing stairlift.

Other members of the household should be able to use the stairway when the lift is folded against the wall in most cases. It may be more difficult if you have a very narrow staircase.

Some companies recommend that you infill, or board up banisters/spindles on the staircase, to prevent your feet getting caught between them as you go up/down the stairs. This may depend on how much clearance your staircase gives you.

Standing and perching stairlifts

These can be used if you are able to walk to the stairlift and stand while travelling up and down stairs. These may be chosen in preference to seated models if the staircase is exceptionally narrow or if you have a stiff leg or legs and are unable to bend your knee/s when seated. A standing or seated stairlift would not be suitable for you if you experience severe uncontrollable body movements or dizziness, as this could cause you to fall from the lift. It may also not be suitable for someone with reduced cognitive ability, who may be made anxious and try to get off the lift whilst in use.

Standing stairlifts require you to fully weight bear whilst standing as the stairlift makes its way up/downstairs, so may not be ideal if you have reduced standing tolerance or tire quickly. On most models you stand sideways on to the stairs, but some require you to stand facing down the stairs. If facing sideways, these stairlifts usually have support on either side, similar to the armrests on a seated stairlift, with an additional guard rail on the lower side of the lift. If facing down the stairs, there is a strong guard rail to grip in front of you.

Perching stairlifts are very similar to standing stairlifts, except that they provide a small amount of additional support underneath the buttocks. You will travel in a perched position, i.e. between sitting and standing. As with standing stairlifts, there is usually support either side, similar to the armrests on a seated stairlift, with an additional guard rail on the lower side of the lift.

If you are selecting a standing or perching lift, ensure there is adequate headroom from top to bottom of the stairs.

Stairlifts with a wheelchair platform

These may enable the person to retain his independence and eliminate the need to transfer out of his wheelchair and onto a stairlift. Instead the user is able to wheel or be pushed straight onto the platform.

Although most of the platforms fold up against the wall when they are not in use, this type of stairlift takes up a lot of room on the stairs and many domestic stairs may not be wide enough to accommodate it.

Outdoor stairlifts

Outdoor stairlifts have the same features as a standard indoor model, with a swivel foldaway seat, key switch control, safety sensors, seatbelt, etc, but they are designed to work in all weathers. A cover is usually available to place over the seat when not in use.

An electricity supply is required and must meet installation safety requirements.

Second-hand stairlifts

It is possible to save some money by buying a second-hand lift. It is advisable to purchase from a lift manufacturer, or an authorised company dealing in re-conditioned lifts who will have checked that the lift meets current safety standards, and will provide a warranty.

The tracking for straight stairlifts can usually be resited. Most makes, if required, can be installed on the opposite side of the stairs to the original siting - although different makes and models require differing amounts of work.

The track of a second hand curved stairlift cannot be re-sited in another house. However, with some makes, a new track can be made to fit your house and the second hand seat unit and motor can be used in conjunction with it. Be wary of curved tracking that is offered second hand as this is not considered good practice.

If you are considering buying a lift privately, eg via the local paper or adverts board, it is advisable to get the original stairlift manufacturer, or company dealing in re-conditioned stairlifts to assess the stairlift for its suitability for your use in the new location, service it and, if all is satisfactory, actually carry out the installation. You should not attempt to wire up and install it yourself. Always check that the manufacturer is still in business and/or parts are still available should anything go wrong.

Make sure that the track will be long enough to fit your stairs; a track that covers 14 stairs in one house might only cover 13 in another. The length is the important factor - as an approximate guide, the length required is the length of the face of the stairs from the top nosing to the hall floor plus 14 inches.

Once the stairlift has been installed, it is advisable to set up a service/maintenance contract with a company who you will be able to call on 24 hours a day if mechanical difficulties arise. Annual maintenance is recommended.

Rented stairlifts

A number of companies offer stairlifts for rent and/or hire, usually charging an initial fee for installation and then a regular monthly sum. Check with the company what the minimum rent/hire period is. These rental stairlifts are often pre-used, so your choice of colour and style may be limited. Hiring may be ideal if you are recovering from an accident or operation and do not want a permanent installation.

Stairlift features

Rechargeable batteries
Most stairlifts have rechargeable batteries that are usually topped up from charging points at the top and/or the bottom of the stairs. Thus they will operate if there is a power failure. The chair requires re-siting at the charging point when not in use and will give a warning bleep if it is in the wrong place. Batteries will eventually need replacing, but should last three-four years. It is essential that the power supply is always connected to enable regular recharging.

Remote controls or 'Call Stations'
A call station is a remote control unit located away from the chair of the stairlift. They are usually sited at the top and bottom of the staircase so a user can 'call' or control the stairlift. This allows users to bring the stairlift to them at the top or bottom of the stairs so they can get on it, or a carer may use the remote control to operate the stairlift for the user.

Control switches
There is a range of designs of control switches incorporated into the end of the armrests on a seated/perching stairlift. This includes standard joysticks, ergonomic joysticks which require less pressure, rocker switches and paddle switches. If you have difficulty in using your hands, you may find that one particular design suits you better than another. Ask your supplier what options are available to try. If you need the controls sited in a particular place for you, ask if this is possible.

Audible signals
For those who are blind or have sight loss, lifts are available with an audible signal to indicate that the lift is at the top or the bottom of the track.

Height adjustable backrest
Some seated stairlifts offer the option of a height adjustable backrest, similar to a desk chair. This may be most useful if you are very tall and need good support at the right height behind you.

Height adjustable and swivel seat
Some seated stairlifts offer adjustable height seats. Having a suitable height chair can help you to sit down and stand up more easily and safely when using the stairlift. If you are transferring from a wheelchair it is easier if the surface from/to which you are moving is adjusted to the same height.

Most seats can swivel at the top and bottom of the stairs, allowing easier access when you are getting on/off. You can choose between manual and powered swivel seats. With manual seats you need to turn the seat yourself by twisting your body in the same way you turn while seated in a standard office chair. With a powered seat swivel you maintain pressure on the lever or switch which operates the stairlift and the seat is turned automatically by electric motors. Check that you will be able to operate the seat swivel mechanism before you buy. For safety the seat should always be locked in position before sitting or standing from it, regardless of whether the swivel is manual or powered.

Moulded seating systems
It is possible to use custom-made moulded seating systems with a stairlift, but you will need specialist advice to do so. The seat, with the user in it, would still have to fit within the dimensions of the stairway. Moulded seating systems may need to be removed before the underlying framework can be folded away.

Folding the seat up and out of the way
The seat, armrests and footrest on a stairlift can usually be lifted up and out of the way when not in use. Some people struggle with folding the footrest up manually. Some stairlift models have a link between the footrest and the seat or the arms of the lift - when you raise the arm or seat the footrest folds up as well. This avoids the need for you to bend, but does require some strength to lift. If this is too difficult then there are models with powered footrest raisers that will raise the footrest at the touch of a button, or when a little pressure is applied to raise the stairlift's arms or seat.

Safety belt
Most safety belts are in the form of a lap strap. Some are retractable, so do not get in the way when not in use. A diagonal lap strap (like a car seat belt) or a full five point body harness can be provided by some manufacturers on request.

On/off key switch
The on/off key switch is usually located on the armrest or main body of the chair. When the key is removed the stairlift is completely immobilised. This is a useful safety feature if, for example, there are small children in the household who may try and operate the stairlift.

Safety sensors
Safety sensors can be positioned on the footrest, chair or rail. They automatically stop the stair lift if they sense that something is in the way whilst moving up/down the stairs.

Status display
Some chairs have a small digital display which states the current status of the stairlift. Should a fault occur, it would be displayed as a diagnostic code in the display.

Hinged rail
On stairlifts with a hinged rail, the bottom section of the rail folds upwards and out of the way to prevent it causing an obstruction or tripping hazard. This may be essential if there is a doorway in the wall at the bottom of your stairs. Consider whether you will be able to fold the rail manually or if you require a motorised folding rail/powered hinge.

Emergency stop
All stairlifts will have an emergency stop button/control, usually on both the chair and the remote/wall-mounted control unit.

Emergency manual control/winder
The chair will also have a manual winding mechanism for use in emergencies, should the motor fail. This is usually a circular handle, inserted into the main body of the chair which needs to be manually turned in order to move/wind the chair.

Vertical/through-floor lifts

Vertical, or through floor lifts, maximise the independence of an individual by enabling him/her to move from one floor to another within the home or a public building. If you use a wheelchair you can avoid the need to transfer in/out of your chair.

However, vertical lifts need more space than a stairlift both at groundfloor level and in the room at the top, and it is sometimes necessary to make structural alterations to the property.

It is essential that the lifts are installed by a qualified engineer, that regular maintenance is carried out and that lifts are inspected and tested every six months by a qualified lift engineer.

Considerations when choosing a vertical/through-floor lift

When choosing a vertical/through-floor lift, consider the following:

  • For wheelchair passengers the lift car or platform should have a level or ramped access. If you use a self-propelling wheelchair you should make sure that you can open the lift door easily. Some lifts have doors that can be opened using push button controls
  • For seated passengers there is a choice of fixed seats, fold-down seats, perching seats and seats which slide forward to assist access in and out of the lift. Some companies will fix the seat at the most appropriate height for the user.
  • Dimensions and house design considerations - it is important that there is enough space for you to approach and enter the lift easily. Most lifts are accessed from the front of the car but some companies are able to offer side door entry.
  • Most lifts have push button controls sited within the car. Additional remote handsets may also be available. Some companies offer alternative control mechanisms and some can position the controls to suit the user. Illuminated controls are available and may be particularly helpful for users with low vision.
  • How might your ability to use the lift change over time? Can the lift be managed by a carer if required?
  • Are there any risk factors for you or others when using the lift? If you experience seizures, what would you do if this occurred whilst you were in the lift?

Safety features

Check the following safety features when choosing a through-floor lift, many should be included as standard:

  • a system for controlling the speed of the lift, with an emergency stopping system
  • emergency lowering via a wind-down handle or a battery operated/hydraulic back-up system, should there be a power failure
  • an automatic door locking mechanism when the door shuts
  • an on/off key switch
  • sensors underneath the car to detect any objects that could possibly block its path, e.g. toys
  • The 2012 British Standard for through floor lifts and home lifts have strict requirements for fire protection. These must be adhered to when installing through floor lifts. Ensure that you ask the supplier or manufacturer how the model you choose meets these standards
  • an in-car alarm or telephone to call for help.

Vertical lifts without a shaft

Vertical lifts without a shaft are commonly used in home environments as they require less structural alterations than lifts with a shaft.

Although versions are available that carry a seated or standing passenger, most are used by wheelchair users. The lift car is either partially or fully enclosed and usually travels up and down a wall-fixed track/s. Partially enclosed cars enable the user to see outside and may be more suitable for users who do not like enclosed spaces. The doors on totally or partially enclosed carriages are electronically interlocked as a safety precaution so that they can not be opened when the lift is moving and the lift will not move if the door is open.

In order to travel between floors a trap door or aperture is constructed in the ceiling/floor which automatically opens and closes. When the lift is on the ground floor the gap in the ceiling is covered by an infill that matches the ceiling of the room, whilst in the upper room the infill blends in with the carpet in that room.

Vertical lifts with a shaft

Lifts for use in any nursing, residential or public building must be enclosed within a shaft and usually require extensive structural alterations. They can carry more than one person at a time, either someone standing, someone in a wheelchair or both. They can be accessed via a ramp or recessed into a shallow pit for level access.

Short-rise lifts - fixed and mobile

Short-rise lifts can be used indoors or outdoors where a change in level occurs, eg at a front step or in a split level hallway. They are particularly useful in confined spaces where installation of a ramp is not possible. They make it possible for wheelchair users to be independent as they are able to propel directly onto the platform and move between levels without assistance. Some short-rise lifts are able to carry both the wheelchair user and carer. Fixed short-rise lifts may require structural alterations before installation.

To provide level access, the mechanism of many fixed models has to be sunk below ground level in a pit so that the platform is flush with the ground at its lowest position. Where this is not possible, ramped access to the platform will be necessary. Most platforms lift vertically so are situated next to, or instead of, steps. Others may have a bridging mechanism that lifts the platform up and over the steps. When the lift is not in use the steps can be used in the normal way. New designs are emerging which convert the steps into a lift platform.

Look at the features on the lifts you are considering:

  • Can you manage the controls or are remote controls an option?
  • Are there side support rails if you need them?
  • What is the back-up mechanism should there be a power failure?

Mobile short-rise lifts/portable lifting platforms do not require structural alterations.

They may be useful for overcoming a small change in level which does not need to be accessed very often, e.g. into the garden or on to a stage.

The lifts may be operated manually or electronically, powered by a rechargeable battery, and are accessed via a ramp. The ramp then folds up whilst the lift is in use. Some enable a carer to travel with the wheelchair user.

Check how easy it is to move the lift. Those with larger wheels may be easier to transport.

Stairclimbers

These are operated by a carer and are designed to climb up and down a flight of stairs, as they are not attached to the staircase they can be transported and used on different staircases. They are available either as a seated device into which the user is transferred or as an attachment which fits onto a standard manual wheelchair or powered wheelchair. Some have caterpillar tracks that grip the stairs and others have a wheel cluster which rotates to transport the user up or down. They are powered by rechargeable battery.

Some of the stairclimbers with an attachment onto which a wheelchair can be attached require the wheelchair's rear wheels to be removed when going up and down stairs. These are only suitable for wheelchairs with quick release wheels and a carer /attendant who is confident to remove and re-attach the wheels.

It is essential that the carer is familiar and has been trained with the equipment before trying to operate it. It is important to consider the staircase, as stairlifts will only cover a certain depth of tread, and cannot cover curved staircases without spacious landings.

Arranging a quotation

If you intend to purchase privately consider the following tips:

  • Always obtain more than one quote. Try to obtain quotes from both a manufacturer and a local supplier for a comparison
  • When arranging a quotation, confirm with the company that you will not need to pay for the quotation.
  • Ask for brochures to be posted to you and read them, know what you're buying, and prepare a list of questions. Read about the features available and prioritise what is most important to you
  • Confirm with the company that they are the approved distributors for the stairlift/lift that they are selling and that they are able to supply spare parts
  • Ask who will look after your lift if it breaks down? Are there any maintenance costs, and is there an expensive ongoing contract? What are the company's response times? All lifts should have a 12 month warranty but ask about the terms and conditions. You may have to pay extra for 24-hour call-out cover.
  • Ask how many engineers the company has in your area
  • Arrange to have an occupational therapist present during the visit. If this is not possible, ask a trusted friend or family member to be present instead
  • If possible try a stairlift/lift out in an equipment demonstration centre, or a showroom or in the house of someone who already has one fitted.
  • Beware of hard sale techniques. Ignore special offers, which only apply if you 'buy now'. Some salespeople start by quoting a high price and then offer discounts to close the sale. A reputable company will quote the best price from the start. Do not feel pressurised into signing up during the visit
  • Ask if the company has a buy back policy and, if so, get it confirmed in writing
  • If you do have to pay a deposit, ask for the company's cancellation policy in writing.

Service and maintenance

Most major companies provide a one or two year warranty with the lift, which you may be able to extend if wanted for an additional charge. After this it is recommended that they are inspected every six months and serviced annually. Some companies offer an emergency call-out facility. However, check that they have fully trained service engineers on call 24 hours a day. On completion of your one year warranty most companies will offer to re-guarantee the lift for a charge. It is advisable to check these charges before purchasing.

The lift mechanism is a complicated piece of equipment and is subject to a great deal of wear and tear. It is essential that regular maintenance is carried out and that lifts are inspected and tested every six months by a qualified lift engineer.

Useful addresses

  • Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland (AOTI)
    Office 1 & 2
    1st Floor
    Haymarket House
    Smithfield
    Dublin 7
    Tel: 01-874 8136
    Email: info@aoti.ie
    Website: www.aoti.ie

  • Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP)
    Royal College of Surgeons
    St Stephen's Green
    Dublin 2
    Tel: 01-402 2148
    Fax: 01-402 2160
    Email: info@iscp.ie
    Website: www.iscp.ie

  • Shopmobility (a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Liffey Valley Shopping Centre
    Quarryvale
    Clondalkin
    Dublin 22
    Tel: 01-620 8731

  • Shopmobility (a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Mahon Point Shopping Centre
    Mahon
    Cork
    Tel: 021-431 3033

  • Shopmobility (a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Red Car Park (Level 2M)
    Dundrum Town Centre
    Dundrum
    Dublin 14
    Tel: 01-298 7982

  • Shopmobility(a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Blanchardstown Shopping Centre
    Red Car Park - Marks and Spencers Entrance
    Blanchardstown
    Dublin 15
    Tel: 01-821 1911

  • Shopmobility (a free service offering manual wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and scooters to members of the public with limited mobility for periods of up to a day)
    Green Car Park
    Whitewater Shopping Centre
    Cutlery Road
    Newbridge
    Co Kildare
    Tel: 045-450736

  • VAT (Unregistered) Repayments Section
    Revenue Commissioners
    FREEPOST
    Central Repayments Office
    M: TEK II Building
    Armagh Road
    Monaghan
    Tel: 047 62125 or 047 62124
    LoCall: 1890 60 60 61
    Email: cromon@revenue.ie
    Web: www.revenue.ie

  • Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) (UK charity providing advice and information and a comprehensive up-to-date database of disability equipment available in the UK)
    England
    Tel: 0044 207 289 6111
    Email: info@dlf.org.uk
    Web: www.dlf.org.uk

  • Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RIDC) (independent research body in UK which produces guides for older and disabled consumers based on professional research - formerly known as RICA)
    England
    Tel: 0044 207 427 2460
    Email: info@ridc.org.uk
    Website: www.ridc.org.uk

Last Updated: June 2018