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Elevator – Yes, Access NO!

by Louis on August 13, 2010

We are staying in a very nice house at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Kiawah is a beautiful place. We have come many times over the years. I taught my daughter to ride a bike here. This place means all the great things about a repeated family trip enjoying natural beauty.

We rented a house with an elevator so my father in law, David (mid 90s, blind, second set of replaced hips, slowing down a bit), and my niece, Olivia, who uses a walker, will feel included on this vacation. This is expensive, but not an indulgence. It makes sense under the circumstances.

But wait! It’s not that simple. We can’t figure out what the elevator is actually for!

You see, we thought once Olivia got out of the car and walked over to the elevator she would step in and ride on up! I don’t think that was unreasonable, do you? But this elevator entry is only 22 1/2″ wide. Her walker will not fit through the gate as she holds it and walks. The door to the shaft is 30″, the elevator car is about 30″ (although part of the jamb blocks the width of the car), BUT most important the safety gate only leaves a 22 1/2″ opening to enter the elevator. Talk about bottlenecks! This is a doozy.

This is not going to ruin our vacation but it is REALLY frustrating.

Installing an elevator is a great idea. But why ignore the details that make it truly useful to those who need it rather than a nice (mere?) convenience (can I use indulgence here…I think SO!)  for those who can afford it? How much more would it cost for the architect, contractor, builder, owner to think through the details of what they are doing? How about the elevator dealer? For the benefit of the doubt, lets know they told everyone involved how silly this was, how much greater benefit there would be if they followed the idea to the thoughtful conclusion, and they ignored the advice.

Though it is my first time feeling cheated personally, it is hardly my first frustration with elevators providing less than the access expected.  I have been in homes (like the main floor in this place) where the space outside the elevator is not sufficient to maneuver a wheelchair to get inside the elevator. I have been in homes with elevators to go between floors but steps to get into the house from the outside.

I have known frustrated homeowners. One client a few years ago, having been diagnosed with a progressive neurological condition, moved to a home with an elevator before his symptoms made him fully aware. This fellow was one of the rare self actualized folks who made plans. He was a prisoner inside his elevator home. He could not get in or out on his own. He felt ripped off. I agreed.

There are regulations for elevators in public and commercial spaces. There are no regulations for single, detached homes. However, the regulations can serve as guidelines about access and maneuverability to designers and builders. There are access experts who can be consulted. For someone who wants to find out what is right, the information is available.

When are builders, designers, suppliers, plan reviewers and inspectors responsible for making sure this sort of installation/expense/investment has real utility?   Does this sort of thing happen all the time? Are clients asking the right questions to prepare their homes for Aging in Place but the building community avoiding their homework? Is it a case of caveat emptor: client’s placing too much faith in our industry?

We cannot blame the contractors who built homes before the issues were known, before the population had started to age, before we began to live so long with health conditions that limit mobility and other abilities. But that is no longer the case. You can hardly go to a builder or remodeler or design convention without Aging in Place on the agenda. Many seminars contain good details. It is not just marketing. The details are important.

I am ready to be angry, not just frustrated, at those who are wasting our resources on devices, homes and property that is not meeting the needs of those for whom it is intended. I am ready to be angry at those who smile and take their client’s money when they do not do their homework to give people what they are really asking for instead of paying lip service to their requests. I am ready to be angry on behalf of those who ask for a home in which they can age gracefully and who are provided with less.

Builders, lets get it right from now on. Lets build homes we are proud of, giving our clients the tools they need to truly Age in Place.

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