Elevator call destination systems have been making their way into Australian buildings since the 1990s.
These systems allow users to request a specific floor when calling an elevator as opposed to selecting the floor when they have entered the lift car. Through programming, this allows the system to allocate users to a particular car, consequently reducing the amount of stops a lift might make and ensuring a suitable amount of users are travelling in each lift.
As with most new technologies, they offer a host of advantages. For building users, they potentially offer shorter waiting times, faster travel times and less crowded lift cars; for building owners and managers these systems can reduce operating and energy costs and in some instances even reduce the number of elevator shafts necessary to service a building.
For all the benefits new technologies provide, however, often a new host of additional considerations also arise. For all the convenience these systems offer, for people with vision and hearing impairment as well as physical and mobility disabilities these systems can be very difficult to negotiate.
Touch screen interfaces at the lift lobby can provide the added function of graphics or way finding information, but for people with limited dexterity, pressing the required button in the time allowed may not be realistic. The lack of tactile information can also limit access by people with affected vision. Key pads with large keys and big, bold lettering, appropriate luminance contrast, as well as tactile and Braille features can reduce the effect of these barriers.
The location of the keypad is also critical. Establishing clear visual contact to the controls from the key areas of the building (e.g. the entry foyer as well as the lift lobby) facilitates better way finding and navigation through the building. Locating the controls at a suitable height for both standing and seated users, and in an area with sufficient circulation will facilitate use by a larger group of people. Auditory cues and feedback may further assist people with vision impairments.
Following on from assigning a destination, the user must then of course proceed to find the relevant lift car corresponding to their selection. Users with vision impairments may have difficulty reading the standard visual displays associated to each car. The lift cars should therefore be clearly signed with tactile and Braille information, and the auditory information provided should include additional cues directing people to the proper lift car (e.g. ‘please proceed to lift B which is the second elevator to your left…’).
For people with mobility difficulties, travelling to and negotiating entry to the lift may take longer than other users. To this end, many call destination systems include a button, often marked with the international symbol for disability. When activated upon making a destination selection, the system will provide a longer period for the user to travel to and through the entry of the designated lift car.
Visual and auditory indicators and announcements within the car to assist with confirming the location of the lift car and finding the required floor are of course equally important. A verbal announcement of the floor upon arrival as well as a visual numerical indication of a suitable size, contrast and location are necessary to ensure success for people with low vision.
It should also be noted that the relevant Australian Standard referenced to the BCA 2013, AS 1735.12 (1999) Facilities for persons with disabilities, is largely silent on these types of systems. Helpful information regarding items such as lighting, the provision of a handrail and audible information can be found in this standard, but no guidance with regard to the overall function and organisation of call destination systems is present.
In light of this, and of course the lack of controls within a lift car in such systems, it could be deemed that call destination systems do not meet the ‘deemed-to-satisfy’ requirements of the BCA and should therefore be considered as an ‘alternative solution.’ A suitably qualified and accredited access consultant could therefore be involved to assist in developing the alternative solution and ensuring that an accessible system is provided which does not discriminate against any of its potential users.