Stairs are everywhere – but you might not pay them any attention, until you start to have problems getting up and down them.
Stairs can be risky for anyone, but if you have a disability, post-surgical issues, or just general wear-and-tear from advancing age, they can become a real burden. It might feel as though you will never again be able to do the things you used to take for granted!
Luckily, there are plenty of innovative devices available to help you get safely up and down the stairs, even if you are a wheelchair user. One of these mobility devices, although perhaps a lesser-known one, is the stair chair.
What is a Stair Chair?
Not to be confused with a stairlift (or a lift chair), a stair chair is a motorized wheelchair-like device that is specifically designed for stairs. A helper guides the lift on the staircase, but the motorized base does all the heavy lifting.
Stair chairs are also called portable stairlifts, or mobility stair climbers. They can be designed with a built-in seat, or as a base that attaches to a user’s own wheelchair.
Benefits of Stair Chairs
You won’t need to install a stairlift track for these devices. You can use the stair chair the moment it gets delivered.
Stairlifts are installed on only one staircase in your home. A stair chair, on the other hand, is mobile and you can use it on any staircase in your home.
You can take your stair chair along with you while traveling – most models are compact and easy to transport.
Depending on the model of stair chair or portable stair climber, you can climb just about any staircase – outdoors, curved, concrete, or carpeted. The mechanisms are designed not to damage carpets or stairs.
You can use a stair chair or mobile stairlift in places without power, as long as the battery is charged.
For wheelchair users, a stair chair can be a great option compared to a customized wheelchair platform lift. These require an extensive remodel, and are installed to stay in one place. With a stair chair, you have access to stairs wherever you go.
Some stair chair models are designed only to descend the stairs during emergencies where fast evacuations are needed. They are not designed to move upstairs, so won’t be suitable for daily home use.
Stair Chair Products and Features
There are a number of stair chair options available. Permanent wheelchair users can select a model that fits onto their manual or power-operated wheelchair. Users who are able to stand and walk to some degree can select a model with a built-in seat.
All models require an assistant to help the chair up and downstairs, but there’s no heavy lifting required.
The lifts run on rechargeable batteries, and can be used anywhere you want.
We’ve looked at 3 different types of stair chairs below, to give you an idea of what to expect if you want to buy one.
The Garaventa Stair-Trac portable stair lift is a motorized “caterpillar” track device that can be attached to most standard manually-operated wheelchairs. It can be used on wooden, concrete or carpeted stairs. It is most suitable for straight staircases, or stairs with landings that have ample turning space.
Features at a glance:
- Attaches to most standard manual wheelchairs with push handles
- Robust battery – fully charged it can carry a 330lb user up 30 flights of stairs
- Stable and self-supporting
- Steel-reinforced rubber tracks grip onto stairs securely
- Detachable handle for easy storage and transport
- Quick-release safety belt
- Key switch controls unauthorized use
- Rechargeable batteries and charger included
The Scalamobil portable stairlift has a stair-climbing mechanism consisting of two sets of motorized wheels on an axle and frame. The device moves the wheelchair from floor to floor up the stairs at the touch of a button. This lift can be used on curved and narrow staircases.
Features at a glance:
- Compatible with many types of wheelchairs – comfort, active, pediatric, etc.
- Any wheelchair is ready for transportation in a matter of seconds thanks to the universal clamping mechanism fixing the backrest
- Thoroughly proven and patented climbing mechanism
- Can be operated by a single person easily
- Can manage narrow and curved staircases of all kinds
- Avoids damage and wear to stair coverings
- Weight capacity 300lbs
- Range of up to 300 steps with a single battery charge
The Liftkar PT-S stair climber has a built-in seat that is suitable for users with some mobility, who just need assistance on the stairs. It can also be used safely on-ramps, as it has a braking system that kicks in when the lift is tilted backward.
Features at a glance:
- Weight capacity of 350lbs
- Automatic braking system stops the chair on the edge of the step
- Braking system engages when the chair is tilted back, so it is easy to use on ramps and hills
- Operator handle is suitable for left-handed or right-handed individuals
- Stable base prevents any strain to the operator
- Lightweight design that disassembles into three pieces so you can take it with you wherever you go
- Tires will not mark or smudge the floor or staircase
Stair Chair Prices
Stair chair costs can vary, depending on the type and optional features, from $2,000 to around $10,000 brand new. This is in the same range as stairlifts, but remember – you won’t be paying any extra installation fees.
Here are the average prices of the three models we looked at:
Scalamobil portable lift
Liftkar PT-S stair chair
Used stair chairs are also available from various outlets that specialize in mobility devices, at a lower price.
You can also buy budget stair chairs from e-Commerce sites worldwide. Make sure you understand the risks of buying imported goods of this type from foreign sites. Familiarize yourself with warranty issues, and whether you’ll be able to get parts quickly if needed.
If you’re a carer, you’ll have to learn to handle the stair chair safely. It’s best to practice with an empty chair the first few times up and down the staircase!
Stair chairs have a weight limit, so are not generally suitable for bariatric users. There are models available that can accommodate up to 400lbs, but these are mostly designed for use in medical emergencies. Using them at home on a regular basis might increase the risk of an accident.
These innovative devices can really help you maintain your ability to travel around easily. If you’re a wheelchair user, you can have peace of mind knowing that you’ll be able to move up and down the stairs wherever you are. Stair chairs also minimize strain and risk of injury on carers.
Stair chairs are recommended mainly for disabled people who have assistance at home, don’t want the hassle of installing a stairlift, and who also want to be able to move freely outside the home.