Steps and stairs


Stairclimbers can liberate children and adults with special needs, explains Peter Wingrave.

Steps? No problem! I’m on my way up!

Managing risks and limitations in daily living 
Steps and stairs—there’s no escaping them, but how to overcome them? Even a slight change in level can be a huge barrier to mobility and prevent access to areas of a building for anyone with special needs. 80% of homes have them, and the majority of schools. Outside in the wider community, changes in levels also pose a major limitation to daily life, however much accessibility is supposed to be delivered. Visiting friends or family, going for a family meal, booking a holiday, choices are immediately limited if there is any variation in floor level at the destination or en route.

It’s less of a problem with small children, as you carry them up and down, but as they grow, the risk increases to them, and to parents and carers. Responsible authorities take the view that risk needs to be managed to eliminate significant risk of injury to child and/or carers if they are left unsupported.

Requirements in Schools
Schools do have a legal requirement to provide a means of inter-floor transfer under the Equality Act, but again there needs to be the right space and structural alterations to install a lift. The requirement is that they must provide “adequate access”, that is compliant with LOLER (Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations) and that it is safe to operate. Schools also have to be mindful of the latest changes to fire regulations and safe evacuation procedures.

The Stairlift
Conventionally, the ‘go to’ has been a lift. A stairlift can limit safe use of the staircase for the rest of the occupants. More recently, through-floor or platform lifts have become more popular as the prescriptive solution by Occupational Therapists and Trusted Assessors, but these require the space and structural configuration of the building, be it in home or school, to install. 

“It’s so much easier to move around now”.

The Stairclimber
For these reasons, stair climbers are being prescribed more and more. In essence, a stairclimber is a portable, battery-powered device that ascends or descends steps, at a rate set and controlled by the operator. Versions include integral seats, clip-to-wheelchair, and tracking. It can be accessorised to provide safeguarded, personalised correct postural support. It requires no installation or fixing. Depending on the make and model, some versions are also Class 1 Medical Device certified. Only one person is needed to operate it, to safely transfer the passenger up and down stairs, and it can be adjusted to the comfort of the operator. For example, the Bostock family has a stairclimber which is used by one of Daniel’s carers, who is under 5ft tall, and by Dad, who’s 6ft 3ins.

The stairclimber can be moved to wherever steps are—inside the home, school, or the wider outdoors. Its design means once the top or bottom of the flight is reached, the stairclimber can switch to push mode and transport the passenger to wherever needed without a further transfer on/off.

When not in use, it folds away, allowing free access for everyone else. It is light and compact enough to pop into the boot of a car, thereby opening access to the wider world. A stairclimber offers an interim, safe option while an (often more expensive and disruptive) alternative is processed. Or it can be a long-term, risk minimising option. Reputable suppliers will support the delivery team in assessment, train the nominated operator to a level where they can teach others in stairclimber safe operation, and offer full LOLER compliant service and maintenance. Importantly with latest updates to fire regulations, a stairclimber also helps any school satisfy safe evacuation.

There are many examples of how a stairclimber has helped the mobility of a person with special needs. To cite one, a decade ago, the Wray family was given a stairclimber to try out, for dad Paul to get daughter April (then 14), who has Cerebral Palsy, up and down stairs.

Training is provided to support safe use.

“It was such a revolution I wouldn’t let them have it back!” says Paul. “The stairclimber is essential, I wouldn’t be without it, there’s no other way of safely getting April up and down stairs. Carrying her up and down stairs was a recipe for disaster. The stairclimber made it safe, for me and April. It’s good for the whole family: when we’re not using it, the stairclimber stows away. With three other children too, it can be a very full house at times! It doesn’t visibly impact on the household like a stairlift or through-floor lift would. One of the other beauties is we can pack it into the car for family holidays, widening the choice of where we can stay.”

It has also meant the family has been able to move home (three times) without the delay or disruption of waiting for a stairlift or through-floor lift to be installed. Paul adds, “April is talking about moving into supported accommodation with some friends. If she does, the stairclimber will mean she can still come home and access all floors, without us having a more substantial and disruptive adaptation such as a stairlift that would be redundant if/when April isn’t here.”

Peter Wingrave
Author: Peter Wingrave

Peter Wingrave
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Peter Wingrave is a founding partner in AAT GB, which provides mobility and postural support solutions for people with impairments, from toddlers to elderly.

Facebook: @aatgbltd
Twitter: @aatgb
Linkedin: @AATGB



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