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Upwardly mobile: how stair climbers can help with inclusivity

09 April 2024

Wheelchair users can struggle with access to work – but a simple installation could change that.

A report last year found that employers are failing on inclusion for disabled employees. The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023, conducted by the Business Disability Forum, found that only a third of disabled employees believes that their employer is genuine about inclusivity and removing all disability barriers at work. Of the 1,500 disabled employees and managers who contributed to the survey, only 10% felt it was easy to get the reasonable adjustments they needed.

This is undoubtedly shocking, particularly as employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments that allow disabled employees access to work – which includes means working out a safe plan of evacuation for wheelchair users in case of a fire. The Government’s website states that: ‘Under current fire safety legislation it is the responsibility of the person(s) having responsibility for the building to provide a fire safety risk assessment that includes an emergency evacuation plan for all people likely to be in the premises, including disabled people, and how that plan will be implemented.’ In other words, employers have a responsibility to ensure disabled people can leave the building safely in the event of a fire.

It’s very clear that – legally and morally - an employer’s concern about being able to provide a safe exit strategy for wheelchair users should not hold them back from hiring disabled people. Indeed, to do so is against the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. However, it frequently falls on facilities managers to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made – which in this case means working out a safe emergency exit strategy for wheelchair users, bearing in mind that lifts may be out of service if there’s a fire.

Creating a solution

The Stair Climbing Company (TSCC) was set up seven years ago by ex-teacher Chris Persey and his wife Emma. Working in a school with three tower blocks, Chris saw how difficult it was for wheelchair-using children to access anything above the ground floor – creating a clear barrier to their educational needs. 

Chris’s solution to this problem was stair climbers. A stair climber is a battery-powered, fully mobile piece of equipment that easily climbs up or down stairs. It comes with a seat or as a wheelchair carrier. Portable, easy-to-use and relatively cheap, they’re a product that is used commonly for elderly and disabled people all over the world.

Now, the company key business is with occupational therapists and care groups, providing access to people’s homes. “There’s a lot of people out there who are stuck in their homes,” Chris says. “They’re there for years. They literally cannot leave. We’ve designed a product and a service that can empower them and the people around them so they can go out.”

Help at home

But although TSCC's core business has been “let’s help people in the home”, as Chris states, they’ve realised that their product has an equally significant market in larger facilities. Care homes are a clear market for them, and they recently partnered with London hotel Claridges to offer a dignified mobility solution for disabled and elderly guests.

“We also worked in Bath [on the Roman baths],” Chris says. “We made Bath the first World Heritage site that was fully accessible.”

Facilities is now a growing market for them. For facilities managers of commercial work premises, the stair climbers can prove an invaluable solution for providing a safe environment for all workplace users, offering an alternative evacuation process for wheelchair users in the case of lift failure. 

And the stair climbers aren’t just useful for emergencies; for wheelchair users, having to navigate seemingly small obstacles such as two or three stairs up to the front of the workplace can be a daily challenge. Stair climbers can eliminate this problem.

The Stair Climbing Company provides training for facilities managers and all other appointed health and safety personnel when the stair climbers are installed; the training only takes a few hours and does not require strength or skill, and ‘refresh training’ is given every six months to ensure all relevant staff keep their skillset fresh.

The company is also able to wrap the chairs in branded material – a nice touch for schools or public building such as stadiums. 

“We’re trialling the stair climbers in a group of schools in Birmingham, and we’re running the school as an alternative to their evacuation chairs,” Chris says. “What we're doing in that instance is we’ve got one bit of kit and we’re going to all eight schools and we’re training people from all the schools over two days. They’re going to ‘play’ with the kit, and if they like it, we’ll have it installed in all the schools and wrapped in the school colours.”

As Chris points out, despite disability legislation, disability does still remain a serious barrier to work. The employment rate for disabled people is just 53%, compared to 82% of non-disabled people, according to disability charity Scope. “It’s just getting people into work,” Chris says. “A lot is done now for people in work around mental health, but what about people who can’t get into work? Giving them the ability to access work is just brilliant.” 

Case study: The Skyline stair climber in action

When Dan applied for a promotion at the Hammersmith head offices of Immediate Media, it created an issue for the company's facility manager, Edel. Dan is a wheelchair user, and as the firm's offices are based above the ground floor, Edel was aware that, in the event of evacuation, Dan would be unable to transfer from his wheelchair and would therefore be at potential risk.

Edel contacted The Stair Climbing Company and Chris met Dan and Edel at his current workplace to discuss how they would customise their Skyline stair climber model in order to attach to Dan's chair and fulfil the requirements of all involved.  

The Skyline was trialled at the head office, with Dan and the team given full training on how to use the kit in event of evacuation. (As standard, staff at firms using evacuation chairs are 'refresh trained' every 6 months to ensure they are 'ready to go'.) Immediate Media swiftly became not only fully prepared to welcome Dan, but also futureproofed for the benefit of other wheelchair users seeking employment in their workplace.

"The relationship between The Stair Climbing Company and Immediate Media has developed, allowing us to not only meet Dan's requirements but also create an ongoing pattern of servicing and retraining when required, giving faith to entire team,” Edel said.

The Skyline is a product that now works around the UK, allowing wheelchair users the comfort and dignity of staying in their own chair in the event of an emergency. The Stair Climbing Company work closely with The National Trust, Blackstone,  and Carnival Cruise ships to facilitate the same evacuation processes, ensuring that wheelchair users can be safely and comfortably evacuated regardless of circumstances.

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