Entry & Elevator Phones
We sell and install Talk-A-Phone ADA Emergency Phones
Are your elevator phones ready for the ADA?
How to upgrade elevator communications to meet the new rules:
The Americans with Disabilities Act is here, and it affects nearly every aspect of your facility--including the elevators. The ADA requirements for emergency elevator communications are quite specific. Yet, as with most federal regulations, they are often misunderstood. As a health facility manager seeking the most cost-effective solutions for your buildings' elevators, you may find yourself caught in the information void that exists between your elevator service company and your telecommunications supplier.Some elevator service companies are advising facility managers to install a phone cabinet in each elevator cab and equip it with a standard telephone. Subsequent visits by state or local elevator inspectors leave those same facility managers confused and frustrated when they are ordered to remove the standard telephone and re-equip the elevator cab with an ADA-compliant phone. While there are some very knowledgeable elevator service companies performing these modifications and installing the proper equipment, misinformation abounds in this area.
There are also problems with telecommunications dealers and installers. In many cases, telecommunications dealers modify standard telephones to provide some of the features required by the ADA. But often these modifications don't meet all the ADA requirements. Worse, the modifications usually cost more than an ADA-compliant phone.
So how do you become "ADA ready"? First, become familiar with the ADA requirements and your local and state codes for elevator emergency phones. The purpose of ADA requirements for elevator phones is to provide emergency communications to those passengers who are most vulnerable in the event of an elevator emergency. The requirements make sense from that point of view.
Here are the relevant requirements and some advice on how to interpret and implement them.
4.10.14 EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS
If provided, emergency two-way communication systems between the elevator and a point outside the hoistway shall comply with ASME A17.1.1990. The highest operable part of a two-way communications system shall be a maximum of 48 inches from the floor of the car, according to ADA regulations. It shall be identified by a raised symbol and lettering complying with 4.30 and located adjacent to the device.
If the system uses a handset, then the length of the cord from the panel to the handset shall be at least 29 inches. If the system is located in a closed compartment, the compartment door hardware shall conform to 4.27 CONTROLS AND OPERATING MECHANISMS. The emergency intercommunications system shall not require voice communications.
4.31.5 HEARING AID COMPATIBLE AND VOLUME CONTROL TELEPHONES REQUIRED BY 4.1
(1) All telephones shall be hearing-aid compatible.
(2) Volume controls, capable of a minimum of 12 dbA and a maximum of 18 dbA above normal, shall be provided in accordance with 4.1.3. of the ADA. If automatic reset is provided, then 18 dbA may be exceeded.
The first regulation starts with the proviso "if provided." That's because the ADA does not actually mandate the installation of an elevator telephone. An elevator phone is usually mandated by state or local elevator codes, rather than by federal regulations.
The provision for a maximum telephone mounting height of 48 inches is written to ensure full access for wheelchair passengers. The next provision--for a minimum handset cord length of 29 inches--is also written to provide complete access to the handset for both standing and wheelchair-bound passengers. Notice, however, that the regulation is written, "If the system uses a handset. . . " This caveat allows for the use of a hands-free (speaker phone) type of communications system. In fact, in A4.10.14, the regulations encourage the installation of a hands-free type of device: "A device that requires no handset is easier to use by those people with difficulty reaching."
None of these provisions by themselves pose a problem for the health facility manager. They do become problems, though, if your facility is located in a prime area for vandalism. Prone to pushing every button and opening every door, vandals may attempt to sever the handset cord by closing the telephone cabinet door on it or by simply ripping the entire handset out of the cabinet. Later, they may use that same handset as a convenient weapon to inflict damage both in the elevator cab and elsewhere in the facility.
Some facility managers have tried to reduce this risk by installing handsets with armored cables like those found on public pay phones. This is a viable option to reduce handset theft, but it does not solve the problem of vandals attempting to sever the telephone cord. Also, armored cables of at least 29 inches in length are difficult to store in many telephone cabinets.
The last sentence in regulation 4.10.14 may appear to be somewhat confusing when it states, "The emergency intercommunication system shall not require voice communication." The real meaning of this sentence becomes clear when read with A4.311.4 below:
A4.311.4 TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION
It is essential that emergency communication not be dependent on voice communications alone, because the safety of people with hearing or speech impairments could be jeopardized. The visible-signal requirement could be satisfied with something as simple as a button in the area of rescue assistance that lights up, indicating that help is on the way, when the message is answered at the point of entry.
This regulation was written to offer some level of panic control to elevator passengers by providing both a verbal and visual indication that their distress call has been received.
So far, the federal regulations make sense and can be adhered to without great cost. Yet one result of the introduction of these federal ADA elevator requirements has been to mobilize city and state code writers. Many of them are not only modifying their old codes, but adding a slew of new ones.
Some jurisdictions now require that the party receiving the elevator distress call be able to identify the exact elevator cab making the call. And they must be able to make that identification without the benefit of voice communication. If your facility is equipped to handle emergency elevator calls on a 24-hour-a-day basis and utilizes one of the newer PABX telephone systems with built-in caller ID, this is not a problem. Merely connect a separate trunk to each elevator phone and place a placard with emergency dialing instructions near each phone. When elevator passengers dial your security staff, their calls can be easily identified.
For buildings without internal caller ID capability, this requirement is not so easily followed. And for buildings that are not equipped to accept emergency elevator calls onsite and instead use an outside service, it presents an even greater problem.
In addition, some state codes now require that emergency personnel be able to dial directly into the elevator cab to give passengers updated rescue information. In some instances, elevator inspectors have insisted on the installation of a dedicated phone line to each elevator cab, with accompanying caller ID capabilities at the emergency service. The rationale is that a dedicated phone line is the only way to ensure direct inbound calling capability and cab identification. Nonetheless, it is a costly solution because it results in monthly line charges for a telephone line that is rarely used.
To address these issues, some telecommunications equipment providers have designed telephones exclusively for elevator use. Features vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but here are some of the main features now available in the marketplace:
- Hands-free design to eliminate the problem of cord storage and handset theft
- Automatic dialing that activates at the push of a single button. This eases the fumbling and stress of passengers as they try to read emergency instructions and dial the appropriate number. Eliminating a phone dial also ends the possibility of toll call abuse from elevator phones.
- A built-in visual indicator that can be activated remotely by security staff or an emergency service to inform passengers that the distress call has been received
- Built-in identification circuitry that can send a decipherable code to the emergency service for ID checks.
- Vandal-resistant design--a phone that mounts securely to the elevator to prevent theft. Also, there should be no dial to damage and no handset to steal.
- Cabinet mount or surface mount design. Surface mount elevator phones eliminate the need to cut in a telephone cabinet and door.
Besides designing ADA-compliant elevator telephones, some telecommunications equipment manufacturers have also developed line-sharing devices that allow elevator phones to sit idle on an existing telephone line. During an emergency, the device seizes the shared line and diverts it to the elevator. Inbound dialing directors are also available to allow emergency personnel to dial directly into a specific elevator cab without requiring a dedicated line. The product offerings are numerous.
Many facilities are holding off on elevator upgrade plans until they are advised to do so during the course of a routine elevator inspection. Meanwhile, it is wise to investigate your options. Contact your local telecommunications supplier and your elevator service company. Also check with the equipment manufacturers listed below.
Finally, the next time you're in the elevator of a hotel or commercial building, open the telephone cabinet door and see if their elevator phone would meet local, state and ADA requirements. You will be surprised to find that most do not. Their facilities don't carry nearly as many elderly, wheelchair-bound, hearing, vision, and speech-impaired passengers as your elevators do. So you're at much greater risk, which is precisely why you should be much more concerned about meeting the new elevator telephone requirements.
This article first appeared in the on December 01, 1995 in HFM online site.