Many different types of equipment exist to help handicapped and elderly people who usually move about in wheelchairs go up and down stairs. One common device is the "Stair Lift." This is similar to escalators in malls and department stores, except that it does not operate continuously but intermittently, more like an elevator. The rider who wants to use it "calls" it and then operates the machine, going either up or down. This type of equipment can be found today in private homes, in institutions, and in some synagogues.
And this leads to an obvious question: How can the machine be used on Shabbat?
The simplest answer would seem to be to program the Stair Lift before Shabbat using a timer. In this way, the Lift would operate automatically, like a Shabbat elevator, without human intervention. However, there are practical reasons making this approach very difficult. To use a timer it is necessary to predict in advance when the Stair Lift will be needed, and to provide very long stops at every station, to give the rider enough time to attach the wheelchair to the lift. There are also safety considerations which prevent the Stair Lift from being operated in an automatic mode.
In a different type of equipment, the handicapped person needs help. This is the stair climber, which lifts the wheelchair and its occupant up one step at a time.
The solution provided by The Zomet Institute for the Stair Lift is a gramma (indirect action) mechanism, which can be used on Shabbat whenever an electric wheelchair and other similar equipment is suitable. This solution is available for various types of equipment used for climbing stairs, depending on the particular circumstances.
Using gramma, the handicapped person calls for the equipment in a way that is permitted for urgent needs. This means that the wait for service may be slightly longer than during the week, but this corresponds to the Shabbat principle: we are commanded to pause in our weekday hectic lives and to rest on the seventh day.
The Zomet Institute does not sell Stairlifts but only installs the Shabbat systems.
For more information on Shabbat controlled stairlifts in the US and Canada, please contact the ShabbosLift Co. at (646) 543-8811.
For details and prices, contact The Zomet Institute.