Accessible egress

Elderly man smiling with young disabled boy.jpg

Listen to the audio version by clicking the play button above.


If there is an accessible entrance into an establishment, that is all that disabled people need to get into and out of a building. Right?

Well, not so in the case of emergency egress. When someone needs to exit a building quickly, it will often be through a different doorway than the one they used to get into the building. Typically there are emergency exits in addition to an accessible entrance to a facility. Most likely these emergency exits are not suitable for someone using a wheelchair. Generally they will not have a level threshold, may not be wide enough for a wheelchair to fit through and could have a few steps outside the door.

Is it really a good idea to limit the escape options of all the people who cannot use a non-accessible doorway? Usually there is no reason emergency exits cannot be more usable by people with physical disabilities. Mostly they aren’t because they don’t have to be.


Do you ever wonder what happens to the people on the upper stories of a building who cannot use stairs when the fire alarm goes off? For the most part lifts cannot be used in the event of an emergency. That only leaves the stairs. And if you cannot use stairs, does this mean you are stuck in an unsafe situation when you should be getting out of the building as quickly as possible?

Fortunately there are several options to assist non-stair users needing to escape a building. I asked Phil Jackson of Evacuation Now to tell me a bit about the most common options available in New Zealand.

Here is his overview:

  • Evacuation lifts: these are passenger lifts, like the usual sort, but specifically designed in a way that people can use during a fire event.

  • Evacuation chairs: these are often the go-to option for multi storey buildings. With this device an operator can move a person down the stairs. They are not suitable for all people in all situations and training in their use is recommended.

  • Persons caring for each other / themselves: there are a number of methods that people with mobility impairments can learn to move themselves down stairs. It is also possible, with assistance, to move a person down stairs in a manual wheelchair. And some may choose to leave their wheelchair behind and manoeuvre themselves down the stairs, with someone else following with the wheelchair where possible.


Make sure the buildings you are involved with have an evacuation plan that considers everyone, including those with disabilities. The options above are not all that are available.

If in doubt call on the expertise of an evacuation consultant. It might just be a life saver.