Passenger lift destination control systems are already appearing in buildings, but we need to consider universal design and the needs of people with disability in their design.

Don Norman, an academic, author, and advocate for human-centred design, suggested there are barriers to the adoption and use of destination control systems (DCS). This was discussed in his book The Design of Everyday Things, where he commented on the design of conventional lifts, first installed in buildings in the late 1800s.

At that time, there was always an attendant who operated the controls within each lift car. When lifts were automated with controls, people just started pressing buttons to move the lift car between levels. This approach was long accepted and remained unchanged until the advent of DCS. Norman believes the previous system was “a pretty inefficient way of doing things.”

There are clear advantages when using a DCS. However, Norman says attitudes, awareness, and acceptance of a DCS is a barrier, regardless of the many benefits of a system he considers superior to conventional lifts. He says the major disadvantage of a DCS is that it is ‘different’ and violates customary conventions, which can be very disturbing and disconcerting to some, even though the design is superior. So for DCS to be accepted, there must be a greater awareness of the many benefits provided.

There is also some level of confusion over the use of a DCS, because, as Norman correctly says, it is ‘different.’ Dr. Richard D Peters, from the Peters Research Ltd, in his 2006 paper titled Understanding the Benefits and Limitations of Destination Control, noted that when people enter their destination at the lift lobby, it is relatively simple and when people are using a DCS every day it takes only a few days to adapt. Notwithstanding this, he adds that in buildings with a transient population, there is likely to be confusion until the use of DCS becomes widely adopted and the general population becomes more technologically proficient.

Similarly, the adoption of universal design principles to provide more intuitive use, and to reduce the risk of incorrect use, would help to alleviate any potential confusion experienced by users, particularly those who might be easily confused, such as older people and those with cognitive issues. Likewise, it is reasonable to expect that as technology increases, so too will the ease of use of a DCS.

Lastly, accessibility for people with disability must be addressed during the design, installation, and use of the DCS. Recently, Otis Elevator Company engaged AccessWorld Solutions (AWS), the consulting division of the American Foundation for the Blind to evaluate the accessibility features of their DCS and provide recommendations for making their system more usable for people with disabilities. The following is a summary of the recommendations:

  • Extend the timeout period allowed for destination entry input after the accessibility function button is depressed.
  • When giving audible directional instructions, add a pause between part of the directional information, i.e. “Proceed to car B…10 metres straight ahead…then turn to the right”
  • When a security card reader is provided in the lift car, add audible announcements to indicate the card has been successfully swiped.
  • Improve display properties for those people with low vision.

Fully addressing these accessibility issues could also include additional wayfinding information, lift door tactile and Braille markings, hearing loop systems, audible announcements, extra visual information or monitoring of the lift lobby areas, some of which is already outlined in international access and lift standards.

To quote Norman, “conventions are violated: new learning is required. The merits of the new system are irrelevant: it is the change that is upsetting” and change is happening.

DCS is coming to a building near you whether you accept it or not, and we need to adapt alongside this evolving technology.

Read more about Destination Control Lifts in the first part of this series