The Development of the Modern Day Courtroom Lift

Article By: Don Oehrlein, Lift-U Division of Hogan Mfg., Inc.
Date: 11/28/11

Courtroom Lifts came into being in the mid-1990s to meet the newly implemented ADA requirements of providing accessibility in public buildings. Most lift installations were designed on-site and installed without a lot of coordination between the architect, the lift manufacturer, and the millwork contractor. The lifts were often unreliable for a number of reasons, causing Court Administrators to form negative opinions about Courtroom Lifts.

As a lift manufacturer with many years of involvement, Lift-U has become knowledgeable of courtroom applications, the needs and wants of Court Administrators, and ways to comply with the changes of the new ADA and ASME A18.1 requirements. Several new lift devices and accessories have been developed to make integrating lift equipment into the courtroom decorum less difficult. Also, the new lift devices and accessories enhance independent operation, thereby reducing the need for attendant intervention.

The near universal use of Computer Aided Design (CAD) has enabled architects and lift manufacturers to collaborate on designs while still in the planning phase. Many potential problems are avoided by utilizing this technology. Lift-U offers as a free service the incorporation of our lift equipment into your courtroom layout. These services have been proven to help the design team choose the equipment best suited for the application and comply with the changing regulatory requirements.

Lift-U offers two different, all electric, products designed exclusively for courtroom applications.

  • THE VMW ACCESSOR I MODEL: For applications without a pit, the platform is side supported by (4) vertical screw jacks. The platform lowers to the floor at the lower entrance level. The vertical screw jacks are encased in the millwork, so the look of the witness stand is the same as without a lift. The Judge’s Bench can also be served by the lift.
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  • THE VMX ACCESSOR II MODEL: For applications with a pit or raised courtroom floor, the platform is supported by a screw lever mechanism located entirely under the platform. The screw lever mechanism is operated by a unique, horizontal screw drive. Because the mechanism is entirely under the platform, the millwork is undisturbed. The Judges’ Bench can also be served by the lift.

The ASME Safety Standard requires that the lift system be load rated at 750 lbs. for up to an 18 sq. ft. platform and 1050 lbs. for an 18 to 25 sq. ft. platform. Additionally, per code, the lift safety factor shall be 5 times the rated load. The 25 sq. ft. limitation often requires a separate stationary landing adjacent to the lift platform. In addition to the required self-closing lower and upper landing gates, which are integrated into the millwork surrounding the lift platform, these large intermediate landings also require a gate or barrier to guard the landing entrance sill when the lift is in use.

The ASME Safety Standard allows intermediate landings to be equipped with a telescoping roll-up barrier to guard the sill area under the platform from pinch hazards when the lift is raised above the intermediate level and to provide roll-off protection for the lift passenger. The use of Lift-U’s Roll-up Barrier eliminates the need for a swinging gate at the intermediate level, which in most cases do not have enough space to accommodate a hinged gate. The Lift-U roll-up barrier is incorporated within the intermediate landing and is not visible unless the lift platform is raised or lowered from the intermediate level.

A courtroom lift is integrated into the decorum of the courtroom, whether it is for a clerk, witness, judge, or jury. Floor space is conserved, because the space is used for both ambulatory and mobility-impaired persons. In most applications, the lift platform will be parked at the witness level and depending on the rise may have one or two steps to the witness level and possibly one or two steps to the judges’ level.

For a lift platform parked at the witness level one step above the courtroom level, the underside of the platform must be guarded at the lower landing entrance. Otherwise this area is exposed when the lower gate is opened to access the landing for ambulatory use. A riser panel is provided to guard the open space below the lift platform. For a lift installed in a pit, the riser panel is permanently mounted to the bottom of the lift platform and extends into the pit space when the platform is lowered to courtroom floor level. For a lift mounted on the courtroom floor (without a pit), Lift-U has developed a hinged riser plate, which folds under the lift platform when the platform is lowered to the lower landing.

When the lift platform is parked at the witness level two risers above the courtroom floor, an additional step is needed to facilitate egress for able-bodied persons. If a removable step is being used, the gate must stand open while the step is in place. When the step is removed to operate the lift, the gate must be closed and locked before the lift will travel. On occasion, gates have been incorrectly installed to swing over the top of the removable step. The gap under the gate, when the step is removed to use the lift, is a code violation because it presents a pinch / shear hazard to persons standing near or positioned on the lift as the platform moves up or down.

 

Courtroom Lift - Step in Step PositionLift-U is proud to Introduce the NEW Operable Step / Ramp option. This new option is now available, the step is permanently mounted in the lower level entrance of the lift and when the lift is needed it transforms into the entrance ramp to the lift platform. With this option, a gate that swings over the step can be utilized properly. For example, during lift operation the gate is closed and latched, and the step conceals the gap below the gate. When the platform arrives at the lower landing, the gate unlocks and is allowed to open and the automatic step articulates into a threshold ramp to enable a wheelchair passenger to board or disembark the lift. Conversely, before the lift can be operated, whether to transport a passenger or return to the parked witness level, the automatic step will transform from a threshold ramp back to a step, and the gate must be closed and locked. After the lift has returned home to the parked witness level, the gate is unlocked and can be moved to the desired position.

 

Courtroom Lift - Step in Ramp PositionAmbulatory egress to the judges’ level is often accessed through the lift platform area; the platform is parked at the witness level with the judges’ level just one step above. If the judges’ level is more than 7-inches above the witness level, an auxiliary step will be needed. Currently, there are two alternative step options: 1) a removable step, which must be physically relocated in order to use the lift; or 2) an automatic retractable step, which extends to provide a step when the platform is parked at the witness level and retracts under the judges level floor during lift operation. As with all automatic equipment, the retractable step must be interlocked with the lift controls.

The most practical methods to accommodate witnesses, jurors, and the judge are Courtroom Lifts that integrate both functionally and aesthetically within the courtroom stations. The primary reasons to use Lift-U Courtroom Lifts are:

  • Providing accessibility
  • Independent operation
  • Minimal impact on the overall architectural aesthetics
  • Flexibility in the design
  • Large savings in courtroom space as opposed to the use of ramps
  • Reliability