Wheelchair users can experience difficulty and frustration getting around in their everyday lives. One of the most frustrating experiences is having very limited access to a large part of their own property, because of the stairs.

Luckily, there are home modifications that offer a wheelchair user increased freedom in his or her property. One of these options is a wheelchair lift, also known as a chair lift or platform lift.

A chair lift is not to be confused with a stairlift, which incorporates a built-in chair that moves up and down the stairs on a rail. A chair lift is a system that allows you to move your wheelchair or mobility device onto a movable platform.

A wheelchair lift can be used inside the home in a space between floors, on the staircase, or from the ground outside the home up onto the porch.

Types of Chair Lifts

Chair lifts are designed with features that are specific both to your needs, and to the layout of your home. Outdoor lifts that withstand the elements are also available.

The two main styles of chair lifts are inclined lifts, and vertical lifts.

Inclined wheelchair lift

This type of chair lift travels at an incline, on a rail that is fitted alongside an existing staircase. Inclined wheelchair lift motors are located in a separate machine room, which is typically installed underneath the stairs. Some models have a self-contained drive unit at the top of the stairs, or attached to the lift itself.

Some lifts feature a fold-down seat, which gives you the choice of using either the seat or your wheelchair. This is convenient for households with family members of varying mobility levels.

An inclined chair lift can be physically folded up and out of the way when not in use. Even with this feature, an inclined lift isn’t suitable if you have a very narrow staircase.

For users with extensive physical limitations, there is the option of a motorized mechanism that folds the lift platform out of the way, so you won’t have to do any bending or lifting.

Some inclined lift systems consist of a platform that can fold up into steps. It’s limited to areas with only a few steps, but it’s almost invisible when not in use, and looks just like normal stairs. It’s perfect for use between split levels in an open-plan living area.

Vertical wheelchair lift

These chair lifts resemble an elevator, but are not enclosed.  They can be used both indoors and outdoors, for moving floor to floor. They’re the best type of lift to install if you have narrow staircases – but you’ll need a clear 6’ by 6’ space for the landing area.

Vertical lifts have a height limit of around 14 feet, so if you need a longer travel range, you should probably look at installing a residential elevator instead.

The size and weight capacity of the chair lift depends on your body weight and wheelchair type, as well as how you intend to use the lift. Many users report that they move heavy luggage and even pieces of furniture up and down on this type of lift. Well, why not, if it makes your life easier?

Wheelchair Lift Safety Features

A large piece of moving equipment in your home comes with some risks attached. Vertical wheelchair lifts are fitted with sensors under the platform, which will stop the motion of the lift if any obstructions are detected under the platform. This is an especially vital feature for homes that contain children or pets!

A wheelchair lift should have a non-skid base to keep the chair firmly in place. Other safety features include emergency shut-off buttons, load-balance sensors, and weight detectors. The lift should also have backup batteries installed, so it will continue to run in the case of a power outage. You don’t want to worry about getting stuck on a dark staircase.

Wheelchair Lift Cost and Suppliers

As you can see from the information above, a wheelchair lift can be a pretty complicated piece of machinery. Besides the basic lift mechanism and platform, there are plenty of other factors to take into consideration when figuring out the cost.

Size and configuration of your staircase, height, weight capacity requirements, preparation of the landing area, and installation fees all influence the price.  

Here is a brief overview of the price range for the various types of wheelchair lifts, including the installation:

Type of Lift Price Range Installation Cost Total Estimated Cost
Portable $1,000 – $5,000 $500 – $1,000 $1,500 – $6,000
Stair $2,000 – $15,000 $1,000 – $5,000 $3,000 – $20,000
Platform $5,000 – $25,000 $2,000 – $10,000 $7,000 – $35,000
Incline $3,000 – $20,000 $1,000 – $5,000 $4,000 – $25,000
Vehicle $1,500 – $8,000 Varies by vehicle $1,500 – $8,000+

It’s easy to see why suppliers prefer to give customers a full assessment and quote, as the price range is so variable. You won’t easily find their prices directly on their websites – you’ll need to give them a call.

You probably won’t find this kind of specialized equipment on e-commerce sites, if you’re hunting for bargains. If you do manage to hunt down a bargain, bear in mind that installation costs are extra – at anywhere between $500 and $2000.

Some of the top-rated and trusted suppliers of chair lifts:


A wheelchair lift is a fairly large piece of high-tech equipment, that might make homeowners feel some trepidation!

The lifts can be costly, which is daunting for someone on disability benefits, or a senior person. They’re not exactly unobtrusive. And if you live in a home with relatives or friends, you might worry about bothering them with a messy, inconvenient installation.

Consider the massive benefits of a wheelchair lift, though. Independent living for disabled people is vital for emotional wellbeing. With a lift installed in your home, you’ll be able to continue living there for far longer.

What questions should you ask a wheelchair lift supplier?

Are wheelchair lifts covered by Medicare?

Unfortunately, no. Lift installations are considered home modifications, therefore they are not covered. However, some states offer a Medicaid waiver, which is geared to help seniors and the disabled live independently at home. You might be able to arrange funding through this system.

Seniors can enquire at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Veterans can apply to the VA for funds.