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Commonly used Terms in the Mobility and Accessibility Industry


ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) – A law enacted by the U.S. Congress to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. The ADA also requires that public buildings meet certain accessibility codes and regulations. For example, all lifts and elevators in public places must be ADA code compliant which guides such things as the size of the platform and certain operating specifications.

Assistive Device – A product that aids a person with disabilities or reduced mobility in performing various daily living tasks such as bathing and walking.


Bariatric – A term used in relation to obesity; for example, a bariatric wheelchair would have a high weight capacity to operate properly.

Bath Lift – A bath lift is designed to raise and lower a mobility-restricted person in a bathtub.


Cab Operating Panel (COP) – A panel in the car of a lift or elevator housing the operating controls. Buttons typically control the up/down motion, levels or stops and door or gate opening functions.

Cab/Car – The interior area of a lift of elevator which carries a person/persons on the lift.

Carriage (Load-Carrying Unit) – The moving part of a lift, either a chair or a platform, which carries the user. For example, the base on a stair lift under the chair.

Ceiling Lift – A ceiling lift is a motorized device that lifts and transfers a person from point to point along an overhead track. The track can be ceiling-mounted or portable.

Chain Drive A roller chain, which is a series of connected chain links, is fed into the teeth of a sprocket gear, allowing the unit to move.

Commode – A chair with a hole in the seat for a toilet chamber or personal cleaning.

Constant Pressure Operation – The user or attendant must press and hold a button to move a powered device and stops once pressure is removed. Accessibility lifts require operation by constant pressure.

Continuous Charge – Usually seen in devices that travel along a rail (stair lift, incline lift), the charging system runs the full length of the rail, keeping the unit on charging regardless of where it is stopped on the rail.

Curved Stair Lift – On a curved stair lift, the travel rail is bent to follow any angle or change of direction. A curved stair lift is installed on stairs that feature a turn or curve, an intermediate landing, any change in direction or when out-of-the-way parking at the top or bottom is desired.


Dumbwaiters Intended to carry laundry, food or other materials from floor to floor using a freight box that travels via motorized cables/ropes through a small hoist-way inside the wall.


Electro-Mechanical Interlocks (EMI) – Specialized safety locks that operate in conjunction with the elevator or lift functions in order to ensure that doors or gates can only be opened when the lift is at a landing level.


Gait – A pattern of movements when walking or running.

Gearless Traction Elevator (residential) – A type of elevator that operates with high quality steel ropes/cables and counterweight systems. The end result is a smooth and quiet ride.

Ground Clearance – An important term regarding wheeled mobility devices such as scooter, it is the space between the undercarriage of the device and the ground. The greater the ground clearance, the higher the bumps and obstacles the mobility device can travel across.

Geared Traction Elevator – An elevator that uses a chain with motor and counterweights to move the elevator up and down a hoist-way/shaft.


Hall Call – A control button outside of the lift or elevator on a landing that brings, or “calls,” the lift to the landing or stop.

Hoist-way/Shaft – A structure created inside the walls of the home for the elevator or lift to travel up and down. Hoist-ways are built to specific requirements suggested by the manufacturer of the home elevator. Allow about 5 square feet for a hoist-way.

Home Elevators – A specific type of elevator built only for home use and subject to meeting national and local requirements. A residential elevator cannot be used in any building that is not a private home.

Home Medical Equipment – Also known as Durable Medical Equipment (DME), a category of medical devices or equipment used by the elderly or people with disabilities to help them perform various daily living tasks in their homes.

Hydraulic Drive System – Hydraulic fluid is pumped in and out of a cylinder with reservoir to create the necessary pressure to move a platform lift or elevator. Considered to create a smooth and quiet ride, although not as quiet as that in a gearless elevator.


Inclined Platform Lift (IPL) – A platform carrying a person in wheelchair on a rail that is mounted to the stairs or stairs and adjacent wall. An inclined platform lift therefore, follows the angle of the stairs.


Keyed Operation – A device that requires a key to be used for operation. This prevents unintended use of a lift.


Lead Time – The length of time it will take to build a product.

Lift Chair – Lift chairs are powered to mechanically help people get up from a seated position to a standing position. Lift chairs are built to be comfortable and adjustable in a variety of ways depending upon the model.


Machine Room – A room adjacent or close to an elevator that houses the drive system and the electrical box. Hydraulic elevators require machine rooms, but not all elevators have this requirement.

Manual Lowering Feature – Known also as emergency lowering, manual lowering is a non-electrical system such as a lever or handle, to lower a lift should there be a power failure.

MRL (Machine-Roomless) – Used to describe an elevator that does not require a separate machine room for the drive system. Instead, the drive is integrated with the elevator itself.

Mobility Device – A product that assists with improving the mobility of people with a physical impairment. A scooter or a power wheelchair are examples.

Mobility Scooter – Mobility device designed for people who lack the strength or ability to walk or operate a manual wheelchair. They are battery-powered and steered using a tiller.


Obstruction Sensor/Underpan Sensor – A safety feature that stops a lift when it meets an object. This is an important feature on a stair lift where the sensors should be on the the edges of the footrest and carriage. On a platform lift, the sensors will be located on the underside of the platform.

Overhead Clearance – The clearance needed on top of an elevator or dumbwaiter car inside the hoist-way. It is an important measurement in planning the construction of the hoist-way and is listed in the manufacturer’s planning guide for the specific model you will be installing.


Parking – Parking refers a feature that creates a landing area for a curved inclined platform lift or curved stair lift to be stationed when not in use. Extra rail is added allowing the lift to stop away from the stairs, usually by bending the rail around a corner at the top and/or bottom of the stairs. Parking keeps the stairs fully accessible when the lift is not in use and may also provide a better area, away from the stairs, to get on and off the lift.

Photographic Measurement System – A system that uses a camera and software to measure a curved staircase with great accuracy. Top manufacturers use this type of system which converts the photos into a computer file used to fabricate the travel rail. This ensures a perfect fit of the rail to any stairs.  

Pit – An elevator pit is the space underneath the bottom landing of the elevator. It is required for safety and each model of elevator will have a specific requirement for the depth and construction.   

Power Wheelchair/Power Chair – A powered mobility device used by people who lack the motor function or cardiovascular strength to operate a manual wheelchair. Power chairs are normally controlled by the user with a joystick.

Preventative Maintenance – Inspections, tests, adjustments, cleaning and similar activities carried out on equipment with the intention of preventing malfunctions from occurring during operation. It is designed to keep equipment in proper operating order and is done on a scheduled basis. It is also referred to as scheduled maintenance.


Rack – A length of metal or plastic strip with specially shaped teeth cut or molded. These teeth engage with a pinion to form a positive driving means to convert rotary motion into linear motion. Most stair lifts operate on a rack and pinion system.

Rail– This is the metal (steel) track on which an elevator or lift travels up and down. An elevator has a “rail wall” which is the side of the elevator attached to the rail. Rail is secured to the hoist-way wall and must meet specific load requirements for safety.

Rear Entry Van – A minivan can be converted to provide wheelchair access through the back of the van (through the back hatch) using a fold-out ramp and new lowered floor.

Recycled Equipment – Previously used equipment such as straight stair lifts and mobility scooters that have been inspected and refurbished by experts and resold at discounted prices.

Retractable Seat Belt – On a stair lift a retractable seat belt offers added safety while riding the lift and it is easier to secure with its retractable feature which keeps it easy to access.

Rollator – A rollator has wheels on all legs (three or four) and brakes that can be engaged by the user. It provides support and stability for the elderly or disabled while they are walking.

Roll-in Shower – Designed for people to directly roll into the shower over a low or “zero” threshold using a shower wheelchair.


Screw Drive System – Common in a simple porch lift, the platform moves up and down using the motion of turning a large screw and nut with a motor.

Shower Wheelchair (or “Bathroom Wheelchair”) – Waterproof wheelchairs that can roll directly into an accessible shower and make it easier to clean all parts of the body. Many shower chairs are also commodes.

Side Entry Van – A minivan can be converted to provide wheelchair access through the side of the van (through the sliding door) using a fold-out ramp and new lowered floor.

Speed Governor – Safety feature to ensure that the unit (elevator car, stair lift) do not move too fast, especially when descending.

Stair Lift/Stair Chair – A motorized chair that travels along a rail mounted to the treads of the stairs, to assist the user in getting up and down stairs. There are two basic types of stair lifts straight and curved.

Straight Stair Lift – A straight stair lift is intended for a single flight of straight stairs.


Tiller – A tiller is a “T”-shaped steering column that controls the front wheels to turn left and right or to go straight. Other controls such as forward/reverse, speed and turning signals may be located on the tiller as well. Tillers are commonly used to steer mobility scooters.

Turning Radius – Refers to the radius of the smallest circular turn a vehicle (powered or manual) can make. This is important to consider when purchasing any wheeled mobility device to make sure the device can maneuver properly indoors and outdoors.

Trendelenburg Position – A position where the feet are above the head when lying down. This feature is available on some infinite position lift chairs and can alleviate some pressure on the lower back and improve circulation.

Tower – Houses the operating system and mechanics of a vertical platform lift. The tower also houses the rail the platform travels along.


“Vacation Mode” – A feature to off the unit from unnecessary charging when away from the home for long periods of time.

Vehicle Conversions – A vehicle conversion modifies the original vehicle to accommodate a wheelchair or mobility device. The conversion adds a new lowered floor and fold out ramp to easily allow access via wheelchair.

Vertical Platform Lift (VPL) – Vertical platform lifts travel straight up and down, from one landing to another. Simple vertical platform lifts are also referred to as porch or deck lifts.


Walk Skis (or Walker Glides) – Hard, plastic skis placed on the rear legs of a standard walker to keep the legs from damaging the hardwood or catching on the carpet.

Walkers – Frames designed for people (elderly, disabled or recovering from surgery) who need additional support and stability while walking.

Warranty – A period of time guaranteed by a manufacturer to replace/supply parts to fix a product against defeats. Most manufacturers require compliance with a set of conditions such as stating that any warranty repairs be done by the dealer who originally installed the product.

Water Powered Bath Lifts – The bath lift lowers and raises the user by filling a bladder with water. A hose gets hooked up to either the tub spout or shower head diverter to connect the lift to the water supply.

Wheelchair Lift – A motorized platform carrying a person in wheelchair over a barrier such as steps. A lift may be used in a home, a public building, or as part of a vehicle. Some lifts may accommodate other types of mobility devices such as a motorized scooter. A wheelchair lift may also be referred to as a vertical platform lift (VPL), an inclined platform lift (IPL), an accessibility lift or handicap lift.

Winding Drum – A lifting mechanism that uses a rotating drum with high strength cables wound around it to lift the elevator or lift.


Zero-Gravity Position When lying down, the feet are positioned about the heart to relieve spinal pressure as well as improve circulation. This position is available on some infinite position lift chairs.

Zero Intrusion Rail/Flip-up Rail A rail that can slide up or flip up to be out of the way when the stair lift is not in use.

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