Escalator Invention in the Running for LEGO League Championship

A recent article from Louisville, Kentucky’s WAVE 3 News is about a sharp team of fourth- through sixth-grade students in a local robotics program who aim to make escalators more accessible to those who can’t see well. The Good Vibrations invention uses a transducer to produce vibrations on escalator steps so riders can feel where they are.

Portland Christian School’s first LEGO League team “is causing a stir in the robotics world,” the source says. 11-year-old programmer Lydia Kratt inspired her five fellow members to help those like a friend of hers with disabilities overcome fears of escalators. They’re in the process of patenting the device for such public places as churches, airports and malls. They ranked third of 49 teams across Kentucky, earning an invitation to the national competitions. They also won first place for a LEGO League Global Innovation award, which recognizes the best project ideas most likely to be implemented.

The sight impaired traditionally use elevators for vertical transportation, where Braille is common. Is it a great idea for them to use escalators, too? Check out the video included in the link above to see how the device works and what the inventors have to say about it.

Know Your ADA

An award-winning elevator uses the complex hoistway running up the inside of Vessel. Though innovative, federal officials determined that the developers of Hudson Yards in NYC, where Vessel is featured, did not do enough to ensure that the interactive sculpture complies with the ADA.

Building owners and designers may not always think first about accessibility issues, but the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has been the law of the land for 30 years now, so there’s little excuse for a building being out of compliance. Some may think that simply adding an elevator will circumvent legal problems, but as any vertical-transportation manufacturer, consultant or contractor will tell you, the elevator itself has to meet minimum standards to be within the law. Need a ballpark idea of what’s involved? The folks at interior+sources have stepped up to offer some of the ADA’s elevator basics. The online magazine’s January 9, 2020, article opens by noting which kinds of buildings are exempt, but they fall within a fairly narrow set of circumstances. Assuming your building isn’t exempt, the requirements state that:

This is one of several diagrams included in interiors+sources‘ January 9 article; image by United States Access Board via interiors+sources.
  • The elevator must be easily accessible in a public space (instead of, for example, a cramped hallway)
  • Doors must remain fully open for at least three seconds
  • Call buttons are a minimum of 0.75 inches in diameter
  • Button heights must be centered 42 inches from the floor
  • Car must be at least 51 inches deep and at least 68 inches wide
  • Door width must be at least 36 inches
  • Braille must be below or next to floor numbers on the control panel
  • Automatic verbal announcement of stop or non-verbal audible signal of passed floors and stops must be used
  • Two-way communication must be available in elevator cabs that deaf/blind users can use
  • Emergency controls must be grouped at the bottom of the elevator control panel and have their centerlines no less than 35 inches above the finish floor

This is just the start, however. For more information, you should visit the government website that lists the ADA standards.

By coincidence, one of the most high-profile projects in the U.S. — Hudson Yards, in NYC — is at the center of an ADA complaint, a number of news sources, including Curbed New York, reported in December 2019. At issue is access to the many viewing platforms of Vessel, an interactive sculpture within the megadevelopment. Though an innovative and highly complex elevator system was installed (an ELEVATOR WORLD Project of the Year 2020 winner, featured in EW’s January 2020 issue) federal prosecutors said it was inadequate under the standards set by the ADA. The remedy worked out between the government and the developer entails the installation of a platform lift (possibly two of them) and other measures.

Teenager Inspires School to Install Elevators

The Totten Intermediate School Twitter account tweeted this photo of “the OFFICIAL inaugural ride in our elevator!” Officials, inspired by former student John Hudson Dilgen, center, transformed the school into a 100% ADA-compliant facility.

When John Hudson Dilgen enrolled at Totten Intermediate School in Staten Island, New York, officials worked hard to make sure the youth would be able to get everything he could out of his experience on the campus. While not a problem for most students, attending a multilevel school was difficult for John Hudson because a rare disease means he must use a wheelchair to move around. The school accommodated him by adding a wheelchair ramp and moving his classes to the first floor, but the young man, now a 17-year-old graduate of the school, inspired officials to make the school 100% accessible. The work was completed earlier this month and was inaugurated with a celebration attended by school and elected officials, and John Hudson himself. As reported by silive.com, the school now has two elevators, a wheelchair ramp, new doors and knobs, and accessible restrooms and water fountains. “I am so proud to see this project come to fruition,” said John Boyle, principal of the school. “Our school is now fully ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant and Accessible to ALL! No student will ever be turned away from our school because of his/her special needs. Having John Hudson at the ribbon cutting was something I will never forget. This is one of the proudest moments of my career!”