A portable wheelchair lift that meets the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) incorporates a bellows to enhance the appearance of the lift while protecting its lifting mechanism. The Ascension Virtuoso 4860P Portable Wheelchair Lift is designed to provide reliable access to stages and platforms for people who use wheelchairs. It is the only ADA-compliant portable wheelchair lift that does not require a cumbersome ramp or unsightly machine tower.
The lift is designed and manufactured by Ascension, a division of AGM Container Controls Inc., Tucson, AZ. Founded in 1955, AGM is a leader in the design and fabrication of products that control and monitor moisture, pressure and vacuum changes, and shock and vibration for the U.S. Dept. of Defense, major aerospace companies and others. The firm developed the original Ascension lift in 1992 in an effort to market a product that would answer a growing need and provide a counterpoint to its government-related business. Since then, several redesigns have taken place, with the result being a lift that is easily approachable by someone in a wheelchair, yet does not require a ramp that could obstruct passage for others using a facility.
Purchasing Manager Ron Corbin says the lifts generally are used in facilities such as schools and convention centers. “There are a lot of schools with stages that a person in a wheelchair can't get onto because they were built before ADA,” he says. “In convention center meeting rooms, there is a lot of portable staging, so you need a portable lift when someone in a wheelchair wants to get up onto the stage. A facility can keep one of these lifts available and roll it into place without taking too much space, then roll it out of the way when it isn't needed.”
An Improved Design
Work on the latest design began about three years ago and was brought to market last year. “We were able to eliminate the ramp from in front of the lift,” Corbin says. “The lift platform needs some structure underneath to support a wheelchair, so you can't get completely level with the floor. However, we moved the mechanism out from underneath the lift to the sides. By supporting it on the sides, we were able to reduce the thickness of the support mechanism under the lift car to 1 inch. That's a first for the industry.” According to Corbin, the platforms of other lifts on the market typically are anywhere from 2 to 4 inches off the floor, which requires a ramp. ADA regulations call for 1 ft of ramp length for every inch of height, so a 2-inch height would require a 2-ft ramp. The longer the ramp, the greater obstruction it can cause in a crowded area such as a school auditorium.
Unlike other portable lifts, the Ascension Virtuoso does not use a machine tower to house the drive mechanism. Such towers typically exceed 6 ft in height, which can obstruct the line of sight to stage activities and draw unnecessary attention to the lift and passenger. Instead, the lift uses an electro-hydraulic mechanism to raise the passenger car. The mechanism supports the car evenly on both sides for maximum stability and is extremely quiet, so it will not interrupt a performance.
The redesign helped the lift meet ADA guidelines for closing force and ease of operation. “A person with limited mobility needs to be able to operate it, so a simple push button control moves the lift up and down.”
Aesthetics were also considered in the new design. “We really tried to design the lift so it blends into the environment as much as possible,” says Corbin. “That's why we went with the black color, which we felt would be neutral and not draw too much attention. Also, we incorporated Plexiglas around the sides to give the user better visibility and reduce obstruction.” The lift will accommodate a stage height of up to 5 ft.
Bellows Plays a Dual Role
“Because we changed the design, we also had to change the way we were guarding the underside of the lift mechanism,” Corbin says. The answer was a specially designed Duratite™ bellows enclosure made by A & A Mfg. Co. Inc. of New Berlin, WI, a specialist in the design and manufacture of protective covers for a wide range of applications throughout industry. It is made by a process that produces four rigid sides without stitching or adding metal wires. The exclusive material provides an aesthetically pleasing appearance, easy cleaning, ease of attachment and resistance to wear.
Corbin says the company had two reasons for using the bellows skirt. “One reason is aesthetics,” he says. “The skirt hides all the mechanism underneath the lift and it looks nice. It becomes an integral part of the design. The second reason is that it is a stiff material so it keeps people away from the scissors mechanism and the equipment underneath.”
The bellows is actually a two-part assembly. “It had to be made in two pieces because the part that is fastened to the gate actually opens with it,” Corbin says. The major component is a U-shaped bellows measuring approximately 50 x 60 inches outside. It has an extended height of 66 inches and retracts to 6.5 inches in height. Internal tie strips ensure the bellows' sections open evenly. The U-shaped cross-section includes two short return legs, as well. These are made with cutouts that extend through the sections to accommodate guide rods used to keep the bellows in position. The heavy-duty black material of the Duratite™ bellows matches the appearance of the lift structure.
Space constraints were among the challenges in designing both the bellows and the lift itself. “We tried to keep the overall width as narrow as possible so the lift can fit through 48-inch doorways, but it had to have 36-inch inside space for a wheelchair,” Corbin says. “The space constraints also made the width of the bellows cross-section very critical.”
While Duratite™ covers are typically used to protect industrial lift tables, this application required only minor adaptation to achieve the design and performance objectives. The successful integration of the new lift design and the protective bellows has led to heightened interest among major school districts and other public facilities around the U.S.
Other safety devices incorporated into the lift include a gate interlock, a GFCI to shut off power in the event of a partial or complete short circuit or current overload and a setup system that will only allow the lift to operate if the wheels are in their proper storage position.