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Wheelchair Lifts



Wheelchair Lifts

Guide To Selecting a Wheelchair Lift

This is an overview of wheelchair lifts and scooter lifts. It reviews the different types of wheelchair lifts and outlines the advantages and disadvantages of each. While we will be talking about wheelchair lifts, the same information applies to scooter lifts as well. Although this review may not cover every topic of wheelchair lifts, it should give you a good start so you can ask the right questions before you buy one.

There are two main categories of wheelchair lifts:

  • Wheelchair lifts for vehicles, such as cars, vans or buses, these are discussed first.
  • Wheelchair lifts for houses and other buildings. These are discussed further below, to jump there now click on Home Wheelchair Lifts.

    Vehicle Wheelchair Lifts: Inside Versus Outside

    If you are interested in buying a wheelchair lift for your vehicle, you have two basic options. ‘Inside wheelchair lifts’ will bring your wheelchair inside of the vehicle and ‘outside wheelchair lifts’ will hold your wheelchair outside of the vehicle, usually behind the vehicle. Each option naturally comes with advantages and disadvantages:

    Advantages of inside wheelchair lifts

  • When the wheelchair comes inside, it is protected from weather
  • This type of wheelchair lift does not cause the vehicle to be longer, so it does not change how the vehicle drives.
  • Some more expensive inside wheelchair lifts are built so that the wheelchair user can stay in the wheelchair during the transfer

    Disadvantages of inside wheelchair lifts

  • Most of these wheelchair lifts will take up space inside the vehicle or in its trunk, either from the wheelchair lift, the wheelchair or both.
  • They often require expensive installation or modifications of the vehicle, such as removal of seats.
  • Some vehicle modifications may change vehicle guarantees.

    Advantages of outside wheelchair lifts

  • Little modification of vehicle required.
  • Installation is usually easy and inexpensive.
  • Does not take up space inside of the vehicle.

    Disadvantages of outside wheelchair lifts

  • Wheelchair is out in the weather and can be damaged by rain, wind or road debris
  • The wheelchair lift sticks out in back, making the vehicle longer and requiring caution when driving.
  • The longer a vehicle is the more likely it will ‘bottom out’ on driveways or bumps. Many people report problems with this.
  • A longer vehicle requires extra space when parking and can make parallel parking more difficult.

    Inside Wheelchair Lifts

    There are four types of ‘inside vehicle wheelchair lifts’

    Platform Lift - By far the most common and generally the wheelchair lift of choice for public transport. When not in use the platform is folded, generally to a vertical position either inside or outside of the vehicle. A platform lift can usually handle larger and heavier loads than other wheelchair lifts and some (though not all) are built to raise and lower an occupied wheelchair. The disadvantage is that they usually block the doorway and require a great deal of space for operation. If they are inside of the vehicle, they take up space and often restrict the movement of passenger seats.

    Hoist Lift– Looking like a small construction crane, the hoist wheelchair lift is an arm with straps that connect to the wheelchair to raise and lower it. The wheelchair attaches to the arm by the straps and is hoisted inside the vehicle. These are usually the least expensive inside wheelchair lifts and are never used for occupied wheelchairs. While effective, some users complain that the process is very time consuming.

    Rotary Lift or Swing Lift - Generally found on personal vehicles this wheelchair lift uses a platform that swings out of the vehicle and then lowers to the ground. This type of wheelchair lift requires a great deal of floor space in the vehicle and usually cannot handle larger wheelchairs. However, rotary lifts do not block doors and do not require as much space to load and unload as a platform lift.

    Under Vehicle Lift – This type of wheelchair lift is stored under the vehicle, so it does not take up any space inside of the vehicle. The platform slides out from under the vehicle and rises to the height of the vehicle’s floor. The wheelchair moves out onto the platform and the wheelchair lift descends to the ground. This type of wheelchair lift may require modification to the vehicle’s exhaust system and is often the most expensive option.

    Outside Wheelchair Lifts

    Outside vehicle wheelchair lifts usually attach to a trailer hitch on the back of the vehicle and therefore are quiet simple to install. If the vehicle has a rear hatch or tailgate, you may be able to buy a ‘swing away’ wheelchair lift or adapter which will allow access even when the wheelchair lift is attached (but usually only when unloaded). Check to see if reflectors are included with your outside vehicle wheelchair lift, often they are not. If not purchase them separately and attaching them after installation.

    What do you do if you do not have a hitch on your car? If you are mechanically oriented you can buy and install a wheelchair hitch fairly easily, just make sure the hitch is designed for your vehicle and has enough strength for your wheelchair lift. Alternatively, if you are in the in the USA and want to have a trailer hitch installed for you, U-haul is a leading installer of wheelchair lifts.

    Manual Versus Power Wheelchair Lifts

    There is another decision to be made about vehicle wheelchair lifts. Will it be manually operated or power operated? And if power operated, what is the power source?

    Manual wheelchair lifts

    Obviously, manual wheelchair lifts are less expensive than power wheelchair lifts, but more difficult to operate depending on your disability. For example, when not in use, some manual outside wheelchair lifts detach and are left behind while others fold up and remain attached to the vehicle. Many people find the detachable wheelchair lifts very heavy and difficult to attach and reattach each time. If you do not have a strong, able-bodied individual available to attach these every time you need them, consider another option. The folding outside wheelchair lifts, while easier to manage, also require strength that some older or disabled people may not have.

    Power wheelchair lifts

    Most disabled people prefer power wheelchair lifts. Power wheelchair lifts are usually more expensive, but much easier for older and disabled people to operate. Most power wheelchair lifts have a backup system which is manually operated in the case of power failure. Make sure yours does too or you could get stuck if the battery dies. There are usually two options for power to operate the wheelchair, the car battery or an optional ‘onboard’ battery:

    Onboard Battery: The onboard battery is recharged by connecting it to a standard electrical outlet. Most are easily removable so you can take it inside the house and charge it up and get it ready for the next use. The onboard battery makes this wheelchair lift easier to install, but you will always be recharging it and you will have the additional cost of buying the battery and replacing it every 3-5 years.

    Car Battery: If you connect your power wheelchair lift to your car battery, it will be more difficult or expensive to install as it will require installing wires from the back of the vehicle to the battery. But you do not have to pay for an onboard battery and once installed you never have to worry about recharging the battery. Therefore, this is probably the most convenient option for those that can afford it.

    Funding a Wheelchair Lift

    How do you pay for a vehicle modification? Unfortunately, Medicare usually does not pay for vehicle wheelchair lifts (unless a child is involved). However there are some potential sources of funds. For example:

  • Many, if not all of the car manufacturers have programs which offer financial assistance towards the cost of installation of adaptive equipment on new car purchases. Click to see the program for: Toyota, General Motors, Chrysler, Ford. We have not listed every manufacturer's program, but nearly all of them have similar programs. If your manufacturer is not listed here, ask them.
  • If you have been injured on the job, workers compensation may cover some or all of the costs of vehicle adaptation.
  • Veteran’s benefits usually provide for modifications.
  • Liability insurance usually provides for adaptations if your disability has come from an accident.
  • Some state vocational programs may pay for vehicle modification if it is necessary to return to work. Click to find the Vocational Rehabilitation agency in your state.
  • Some charities may be able to help. For example, if you are from Ontario, Canada, the Ontario March of Dimes has a Home and Vehicle Modification Program.
  • Some local governments may be able to help. Just a few examples are: Atlanta, Delaware.
  • Many states have programs which offer loans to disabled people for assistive technology. Click here for a list of State Loan Programs.
  • Ask at your local Center for Independent Living to see if they know of a funding source. Click here to find addresses of Centers for Independent Living.

    This list is by no means complete, there are literally hundreds of programs and charities which may be able to help you, many more than any of us know. If you know of a fund, charity or program which will help disabled people purchase wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps, wheelchair lifts or other mobility equipment please leave a note in the comment box at the bottom of this page. If we get enough good ideas, we will begin a list on a separate page. This would be a great help for everyone.


  • Home Wheelchair Lifits


    Home wheelchair lifts come in three basic styles:

  • Inclined platform wheelchair lifts
  • Vertical platform wheelchair lifts
  • Portable wheelchair lifts

    Below are some of the things to look for in a home wheelchair lift. This should not be considered a exhaustive list of requirements, but some suggestions to consider when shopping for a home wheelchair lift. The ADA specifications for wheelchair lifts include:

  • A minimum clear floor or ground space of 30" x 48" on vertical and inclined platform wheelchair lifts.
  • Platform wheelchair lifts should allow unassisted entry, operation, and exit.
  • Controls and communication equipment should be placed:
    * if located forward between 48 inches (1220 mm) and 15 inches (380 mm) above the floor.
    * if located to the side of the wheelchair between 54 inch (1370 mm) and 9 inches (230 mm) above the floor.

    The difference is due to the fact that a person in a wheelchair can reach higher and lower to the side of the wheelchair than in front of them. Click to see ADA Wheelchair Lift Requirements.

    Inclined platform wheelchair lifts are built to travel up stairways. Looking very much like their cousin the stairlift, these have platforms for wheelchairs instead of seats. Inclined wheelchair lifts are generally built to adapt well to the shape of stairway, with little or no modifications required for installation. Considerations:

  • They should have a battery backup system in case of power outage and manually operational in case of electrical failure so that the occupant is not locked in or stuck.
  • The platform should fold up, so not to block the stairway when not in use.
  • The stair handrail should be useable by others when the wheelchair lift is not in use
  • Under platform safety and bi-directional ramp sensors to stop movement if an obstruction is detected.
  • Side guards to keep the occupant from rolling off
  • Emergency stop switch always within easy reach
  • Stairway must have adequate lighting
  • A DC powered or hydraulic wheelchair lift may offer a smoother ride, particularly at the start or stop. This may be of importance to people in pain.

    Vertical platform wheelchair lifts (sometimes called porch lifts when outside or through floor lifts when inside) go up and down like regular elevators and should have the normal safety features of regular elevators.

  • When determining the costs, include the cost of the wheelchair lift plus cost of installation and costs of extended warranty coverage.
  • Cost is not the only important factor. Your home will very likely be structurally modified, make sure that the installation team are well experienced professionals. Request references and check them.
  • Make sure that the device meets ADA or local standards. For example, make sure that they have:
    * Sensors to stop movement if obstruction is detected
    * Ability to function if power fails (backup battery system)
    * Ability to function manually doors in case of a mechanical breakdown so that the occupant is not locked inside.
    * Emergency stop switch
  • Some platform wheelchair lifts are very small and take up little room in the house, but may feel claustrophobic. Others are large and roomy, but may take a great deal of floor space. Do not buy a very small wheelchair lift if it is possible that your condition might change and you might require a larger wheelchair or if there is a chance you may move from a manual wheelchair to an electric wheelchair.

    Portable wheelchair lifts may be electric, hydraulic, battery operated or even manually operated. The big advantages of portable wheelchair lifts are that they can be folded up and stored when not in use and they can be used for multiple locations. Also, installation is not usually required. However, some portable wheelchair lifts may require a ramp, since they may not be flush with the floor. The ramp may require a large floor space, and in some cases, installation. Some things to consider:

  • Some portable wheelchair lifts have a large tower that the wheelchair lift climbs when it rises. Others are lifted by mechanisms built in from below.
  • Some portable wheelchair lifts can compress so that they can easily be pushed through small doorways. The wheelchair lift should have normal safety features such as:
  • Side walls and gates.
  • an easy to reach emergency stop button.
  • Hydraulic backup system in case of power or mechanical failure.
  • Sensors to stop movement if an obstruction is detected.

    Funding a Home Wheelchair Lift

    How do you pay for a vehicle modification?

  • Veteran’s benefits usually provide for modifications.
  • Liability insurance usually provides for adaptations if your disability has come from an accident.
  • Some charities may be able to help. For example, if you are from Ontario, Canada, the Ontario March of Dimes has a Home and Vehicle Modification Program.
  • Some local governments may be able to help. Just a few examples are:Atlanta, Delaware.
  • Many states have programs which offer loans to disabled people for assistive technology. Click here for a list of State Loan Programs.
  • Through a grant from the Administration on Aging and working together with a network of local affiliates Rebuilding Together is the largest service provider of modifications for low-income homeowners nationwide. All repairs are free for qualifying homeowners. Click to contact Rebuilding Together.
  • Ask at your local Center for Independent Living to see if they know of a funding source that you might be eligible for. Click here to find a database of Center's for Independent Living.

    This list is by no means complete. If you know of a fund, charity or program which will help disabled people purchase wheelchairs, wheelchair ramps, wheelchair lifts or other mobility equipment please leave a note in the comment box at the bottom of this page.


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