So, I know that there are anti-discrimination laws that require workplaces to have disability access requirements like ramps alongside stairs to entrances, and elevators to allow individuals who are in wheelchairs to access higher floors.

However, there are also workplace safety regulations that require evacuation paths for emergencies such as fires, which usually involve using the stairs to evacuate higher floors, while the use of elevators for this purpose is usually forbidden.

So, how do people with disabilities evacuate during an emergency where the use of elevators is forbidden? They couldn’t take their wheelchair down the stairs, right?

  • 5
    There are plenty of sites online addressing this, such as Disabled evacuation, Emergency Evacuation for Persons with Disabilities and Evacuation Planning & the ADA. Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 6:01
  • 1
    There are also many disabled associations who are prepared to help you with solutions for particular situations. Even the local fire departments can be prepared to help find solutions - actually they are keen as they then know exactly what is in place if an emergency ocurrs...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 7:37
  • 1
    @SolarMike I wasn’t asking this for practical reasons; I was just curious. I suppose that someone who is doing something practical might look this up and find this question, though.
    – nick012000
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 8:14

3 Answers 3


Someone I know works in a multi-storey building, and their evacuation plan for those who cannot safely evacuate themselves (e.g. wheelchair users, people with broken legs in casts, etc. who become stranded when the fire safety systems lock out the lifts) is to have the fire wardens escort them to special areas of the building called refuges. They are essentially a lobby that has fireproofing rated for some number of hours, usually near or within the emergency stairs, with smoke isolating doors that automatically seal. This allows them to wait there comfortably for some time, even if the adjacent room is violently ablaze.

This allows time for firefighters / other emergency services workers to gather the people and resources necessary to evacuate the workers safely (even if that just means carrying someone bodily down a staircase and leaving the wheelchair behind, better safe than sorry).

  • 6
    I've never seen one of these before, but I have to say I'd have some concerns of getting in what is basically an oven labelled "refuge" around the top floor even if the building was super top notch.
    – lucasgcb
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 12:19
  • 2
    @lucasgcb: neither heard of them either, but apparently, that's a thing: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Area_of_refuge Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 12:28
  • A common setup is to keep stairwells at a slight overpressure, with air collected at some distance outside, and the doors leading to the stairwell are heavy fire doors. Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 12:37
  • 3
    I was going to post a similar answer. The awkward truth, for the most part, the answer is "we leave them behind". It is not a great solution but if offers everyone the best chance. Evacuating people on stretchers and carry chairs can block exits still in use by the able that would be clear in minutes otherwise. Office staff are not trained to carry people down long flights of stairs, you can drop people. By providign a safe refuge and quickly communicating which refuges are occipied fit, trained personel with good equipment can hopefully make a safe evacuation.
    – TafT
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 13:07
  • I worked in a building of only 4 floors that had a marked 'area of refuge' within the stairwell, just a largish landing at the 4th floor level. Since the stairwell wasn't climate controlled, and rather uncomfortable to take the stairs on a hot summer day, I do wonder how hot it would get in there during a fire emergency...
    – Meg
    Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 14:49

At my last job (big company, occupied full buildings), they had EVAC+CHAIR at the stairways.

These are operated by two people (or, apparently, only one might be enough), can be assembled quickly and are able to go down the stairs fairly quickly.

We had an emergency squad of volunteers who were trained in how to use those. (They would also help coordinate an orderly evacuation of the building.)

You can watch this video for a demonstration of the EVAC+CHAIR to have an idea of how it works and what it can do.

(Please note I'm not endorsing this product. In fact, I haven't even witnessed it being used, even in trainings. I'm just reporting on what I knew was available at a particular job I've had, so you could have some anecdotal idea of what might be an available solution.)

  • 1
    Indeed, we use these in conjunction with refuge areas. Each year a number of people are trained to use them for each office to ensure that there are always enough people who know how they work and can assist with an evacuation for each person who requires them (I believe we use 6 volunteers per person and 2 for other offices in case of guests/visitors) Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 14:16

To add to the other answers, it is also possible to build elevators which are safe to use in the event of fire. These have a specially protected lift shaft + equipment, smoke extractors in the lobbies, etc, etc.

These are regulated in Europe by EN81-72, and are mandatory in some countries in new buildings.

  • 1
    Indeed, I have worked in a building with them, and they go out of service (go to ground, unload, and wait for someone with a special key) automatically when an alarm is activated specifically so that firefighters can use them to reach and evacuate the individuals who need them quickly. Commented Jul 22, 2019 at 14:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .