I'm sorry, but I am not going to candy coat it, I HATE lifts! As my good friend would say, I hate them with a million billion stabbing hearts.
The subject hit home for me a few weeks ago when I was shopping the AmericasMart with some friends here in Atlanta. Though I worked there many years in my bipedal days, I had forgotten that in reality it was "handicap accessible". (hear the air quotes) It is a literal example of the "three decorative stairs" scenario. The architects in their wisdom placed all the entrances to the elevators in a recess in the floor, down three decorative steps. Anyone in a wheelchair has no alternative other than to use their musty, ancient lift. People are surprised that I'd rather leave, find another way around or do the escalator rather than be subjected to these things. For those of you not in the know, let me "splaine.
Imagine that any time you wanted to go from point A to B. You had to walk across to the other side of the room while others had to wait on you. Then imagine one must find someone who knows WHERE the operational key is kept. Insert a five to twenty minute wait while they find this someone. Also insert a 50/50 chance that they will either A) bring the wrong key B) not know where the key is, or C) use the key and find that it doesn't work. Let's go on the chance that it actually is the right key and that the lift actually is operational. Nine times out of ten, the lift will be on the wrong side that you need, and as it is brought into place it loudly squeaks and groans. Once the gate is open, there is a great likelihood that it will have some sort of horrible smell in addition to a nastiness you pray you don't actually have to touch. The fact that your wheels are touching the bottom of it and your wheels are touching your hands, you get the picture. Note there's a good chance that the designers have the lift completely enclosed. Now you are trapped in a metal box, that smells to high heaven, drawing all sorts of unwanted attention to you, and all of your friends are politely smiling at you in that "We don't mind," sort of way.
So back to my shopping trip: When I realized that the only way to continue our festivities was going to be the elevator, and thus the lift, it sparked a myriad of feelings. My first thought was just take the escalator, but unfortunately I was with friends who are big babies about that sort of thing. Since they were being all "Just use the lift," smiley faces, I was left with a dilemma of not wishing to appear, well, like a baby. As we were going through the "Let's find a person with the keys,” portion of the operation, I realized that I was crying. The longer it took, the harder it was to hide it. Of course twenty minutes later, there were still no keys, so my gallant friends managed me up, chair and all, and we were on our way.
It's one thing to have a lift in an older building, like historic structures, and yes, I know it's been twenty-five years since ADA standards set in, so I'll concede the difference. However, in buildings after that, I'm sorry, there's just no good excuse for the laziness of design. If every biped had to go through this regime to get up three decorative stairs, well, there wouldn't be any. You know it's true. When faced with this, I simply think, "It's called a board, people", i.e. a ramp. Yes, yes, I know! Then they start talking about angles and flow of design but in my opinion it's laziness on the part of the architect. It is a thoughtless lack of inclusion that whines "Well, we can't alter things just on the OFF CHANCE that someone in a wheel chair will come around".
My point is this: EVERYONE can use a ramp, in the same way everyone loves to use the handicap bathroom stall. I mean, don't you just love all the room? Think about it, did any bi-ped ever complain that a door was "too wide" for them to get in, or that the floor was too smooth to walk on? Lifts are a screaming reminder that accessibility is too often an after thought in public spaces. It's clearing out the trash from the back door "handicap exit" because: "We can't keep it open all the time for you people". It's a four foot "grassy" (and in rain, MUDDY) gap in the public sidewalk, or worse ones that simply end, with no ramp, no nothing. It's the bar mounted to the wrong side of the toilet. Tables too close together in a restaurant. An asshole parked across all four handicap parking spaces.
You know what? I take back the "I'm sorry," comment from before. I am not sorry. Lifts are a humiliating nuisance, especially when they are so much an afterthought that they are in disrepair, double as a secret toilet, and no one has seen the key in they can't remember when, much less have it on hand. Yes, there are some lovely up-kept, newer ones, and if they are in an historic building, then fine. However, that imagination exercise from above is our reality, and maybe it's time to do something more than simply smile understandingly.