Imagine being able to access a room of your house for the first time in over a year. Imagine that room holds one of the true passions of your life. One man had such an experience thanks to a stairlift and the human being who installed it for him.
Theresa Irizarry, Home Modifications Coordinator at Green Bay’s HME Home Medical, told us a story about a man who was finally able to reach his basement after such a long stretch thanks to his new stairlift. She recalled that once the man was shown how to get downstairs, he “disappeared amid the largest miniature train set” the installer had ever seen!
“He was so happy to be able to work on his trains again that he left his wife to finish the orientation and sign the paperwork,” Irizarry remembered.
A stairlift can make a huge impact on the life of someone who isn’t getting around as well as they used to. Not only can it help a person get from one floor to another, it can give them the ability to age comfortably in their home rather than move to a nursing home. Ultimately, stairlifts give people their independence back.
That’s priceless — and so are the people who make it possible.
People in the home accessibility industry take a great deal of pride in their work. It means a lot to be involved in a field that improves so many lives every day. We reached out to some of these hardworking contractors and asked them to share stories about times they felt their work really touched someone’s life, and the responses we received were quite moving.
As a service that aims to connect people who want their independence back with qualified folks in their area who can help them attain it, Ability Home Pros is sharing some of these stories to salute the dedicated ladies and gentlemen of this important industry.
Inspirational Tales From the Stairlift Installation Field
No two stories are exactly the same, and people have different reasons for wanting a stairlift in their home.
“It’s hard to pick just one story that really sticks out, because in a way, they all do,” said Ryan Rosenfeldt, a home accessibility specialist at ThedaCare in Appleton, Wisconsin. “Seeing a person take the first ride on their new stairlift and knowing it improved their quality of life is an incredible feeling. The look on their face is priceless!”
The reasons why people choose to have stairlifts installed are nearly as varied as the stories themselves.
“Many people just want to stay in their home with the freedom and safety required to do so,” said Rosenfeldt. “I worked with one gentleman who lives on a beautiful but steep lake lot with stairs that go down to the lake, which unfortunately, he’s unable to use. He loves taking his wife, kids, and grandkids on pontoon rides, so his wife called me one day to see if there was anything we could do to help him. I met with the couple for a site evaluation, and we were able to set them up with an outdoor stairlift. Being able to help somebody do something that they always loved to do is a great feeling.”
Richard Peterson, President of Grace in Motion in Vienna, Virginia, told us about a customer who lives in a four-level townhouse with an entrance on the bottom floor. A knee injury from a skiing accident kept her from being able to use the stairs.
“She had a lot of concerns related to her recovery, but when she called us, we were able to solve at least one of them,” he said. “The next day, we installed three rental stairlifts, and despite the pain and turmoil of adjusting to her current circumstances, she immediately appreciated the lifts as well as our kindness and responsiveness.”
Don Stackhouse, owner of Accessible Improvements, which serves the Washington, DC area, told us about a particular project that led to an ongoing friendship.
“An older woman hired a home improvement contractor to make her home accessible for her husband who had just had a stroke,” he said. “The contractor seemed to have the perfect plan: rebuilding almost the whole front of her house at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.”
After meeting with the client and contractor, Stackhouse stepped outside with the contractor to speak privately. “I told him that there was a much easier way,” he said. “After five minutes, with very little hesitation, he knocked on the customer’s door and explained his new plan. While I didn’t get any credit for it, the plan would save the customer about $20,000 — more than enough to pay for the lift.
“As the project drew closer, the customer called me with questions that would have been better suited for the contractor,” Stackhouse continued. “I answered as best as I could and eventually asked her why she was speaking to me instead. She answered, ‘You couldn’t have known it, but on your first visit to give the estimate, the front window was open. I heard you and the contractor talking, and knew from then that this was all your idea. I applaud you for not saying anything.’
Now the project is long finished, and her husband uses the lift in his wheelchair by himself every day. I see them every year for maintenance, and she always has cookies and a hug for me, thanking me for a solution that was perfect for them.”
People who work in this space know they’re going to help customers improve their lives, but that doesn’t mean surprises don’t come about from time to time. Stackhouse also told us about another job he never could have anticipated.
“Another customer called me to see if I would buy back two straight stair glides a few months after her husband died, which I gladly did,” he recalled. “After about another month, she called again asking to discuss a curved stair glide. During our visit, she explained that she was personally in great health, but that her dog was having problems after gaining so much weight that he could no longer climb the steps. She added that she couldn’t sleep without the dog in her bed since her husband died, so she had been sleeping downstairs on the couch for days.
“I measured and ordered her a curved stair glide, and I built two little doggie ramps. When I called for a one-month follow-up, she thanked me again, and told me how having the dog to sleep with helped fill the empty feeling she was having since her husband passed.”
Stackhouse added, “I never thought I would sell a stair glide for a dog, but in October 2015, that’s what I did.”
For many people, the decision to have a stairlift installed is as simple as answering a single question: Do I want to stay in my own home, or do I want to relocate to a nursing home or other assisted living facility?
“Most people would rather spend the money on one stairlift and stay in their home than pay the costs of a nursing home or a care center,” said Ben Reutzel from Cedar Rapids-based AIM Healthcare.
Thanks to stairlift installers, many are able to do just that.
Andria Gregory from Area Access, which has several locations in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, told us, “Many cannot navigate the stairs to get to their bedroom, shower, garage or other room. People feel trapped in their homes, and some have even fallen off the stairs and had to go to physical therapy.”
Reutzel told us about a recent job in which an elderly woman turned to the company for a stairlift because she didn’t want to move into a nursing home.
“Not only couldn’t she afford it, but she didn’t want to leave the farmhouse her husband built back when they first got married,” Reutzel explained. “After about three months, she had us come out and install a very simple straight stairlift.
“We always have the customer ride the lift a couple times before we leave just to make sure they know how. When she got on the lift and rode it up, she got to the top and started crying. She said that was the first time she had been upstairs in over six years.”
It was a gratifying feeling to give that kind of ability back to a person who had been without it for so long.
“So many times I meet with elderly homeowners who have difficulty going up and down the stairs as they age,” Jeremy Musil from Access Elevator & Lifts, which has locations in several states including Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, told us. “They are comfortable, love the neighborhoods they live in, and do not want to relocate to a nursing or assisted living home. Homeowners want to be independent and not rely on others for assistance, so with a stairlift, they can regain their independence.”
Gregory recalled, “A few years ago one of my clients called me to get a price for stairway lift rental as soon as possible, so I drafted the quote within an hour and emailed it to the client and followed up with a phone call. During my call, I found out that this was for his neighbor who had stage 4 cancer and lived alone in a multi-level townhouse. We installed the unit within a few days.
“After installation, the neighbor was so happy he hugged the technicians. With tears in his eyes, he said, ‘I finally have my dignity back.’ It turned out that he had been crawling up the stairs whenever he could to get to his bedroom and shower. He passed away within a few weeks of installation of the stairlift, but his memory is forever with me.
“Even as I write this, my eyes tear up, and my heart is filled with joy knowing that we brought love, joy, and dignity to him,” Gregory added.
As you might imagine, many people who need a stairlift to help them navigate from floor to floor have valiantly served our country. Musil told us that his team does a lot of work with veterans.
“One particular veteran had no legs below his kneecaps, and was forced to sleep on the main level of his two-story home because getting up and down the stairs became too difficult,” Musil recalled. “Meanwhile, his wife still continued to sleep upstairs. We installed a stairlift and watched as he used it to travel upstairs for the first time in over 10 years.
“All those years he was never able to sleep in the same bed as his wife,” Musil said.”He was so happy that he broke down in tears. It was a very emotional, moving moment. Very gratifying!”
Overcoming The Challenges
While work in the stairlift installation space is incredibly rewarding, it’s not without its challenges. The pros, however, figure out ways to overcome and help their customers overcome them.
“The biggest obstacle is cost,” said Reutzel. “Stairlifts are not cheap, but they are an investment. You can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do, but you can educate and inform them by comparing the cost of the lift versus moving and selling their home, and explaining what a single fall and injury can lead to.”
Stackhouse agreed that the most common challenge is cost. “Most people have a hard time paying for stair glides,” he told us. ” I understand, so I’ve created a few things that can help: rental, free financing, used products and parts that I have personally inspected and reconditioned, and perhaps most important, innovative thinking.”
Stackhouse gave us an example of such thinking in which he helped a customer who was moving. The man, who was a paraplegic, had two straight glides and needed to trade them for a single curved glide, but was afraid he wouldn’t be able to make the down payment on his new home because of related costs. Stackhouse found a way to alter his old glides to meet his new needs while saving him $8,000.
“That’s a happy customer,” Stackhouse said.
While cost is a challenge that must frequently be faced, it’s far from the only one. Rosenfeldt told us that structural challenges are the biggest ones he has to deal with.
“Some stairways are too narrow or too steep or not very sound or stable,” he explained. “I take a look at all the options and go from there.”
Conflict within families can be not only challenging, but an elephant in the room. Rosenfeldt said he often deals with multiple family members who are trying to decide on a stairlift for their loved one. To address this, he listens to what they say about the customer’s needs and goals, offers and explains his recommendations, and answers any questions they have.
“I like to give as much information as I can so the buyer is informed, and they are always free to call me later with any questions,” he added.
Musil also said that sometimes it’s a challenge just to get someone to concede that they need a stairlift in the first place.
“It’s hard sometimes to face the fact that you are getting older and can no longer do the things that you used to do,” said Gregory.
Why We Love This IndustryThe people in the industry that we spoke with clearly love their jobs and appreciate the profound impact they have on the lives of others on a day-to-day basis.
Reutzel told us he finds it rewarding to give people their independence back. “I get to make people’s lives better, give them a part of their life back, and give them security and peace of mind. It’s very rewarding!” he said.
“You change people’s lives when you install stairlifts,” said Rosenfeldt. “There is no better feeling than when you can improve a person’s quality of life and help them continue to live at home. There just isn’t, and I really enjoy what I do!”
“No amount of money can buy the advertising that comes from a happy customer telling their friends about our service,” Stackhouse said. “The satisfaction I get from making someone happy is an added bonus.”
Musil told us that changing people’s lives through stairlift installation “feels great.”
“We deal with both commercial and residential customers, and nearly 80% of all stairlifts we install are for the residential market,” he added. “Those customers are so thankful and appreciative for the stairlift, and take the time to personally thank us for the hard work. I love when we install a stairlift and they are so pleased that they refer a friend. That is a great feeling.”
All of the stairlift professionals we spoke with have a lot in common. They have big hearts, are willing to help customers overcome challenges and find the best solution, and are great at what they do. And while the work isn’t always easy, the people they serve are incredibly grateful for the service being provided to them.
As Gregory told us, “I love helping people and bringing smiles to their faces.”
The stairlift industry is likely taken for granted by the general population at large. Many simply don’t realize the importance or significance of this work. It just doesn’t occur to them. That is until a loved one faces the physical challenges that call for the installation of a lift.
The profession isn’t as visible as some others that are centered around helping people improve their quality of life. After speaking with people who are out there in the field doing the job every day, however, it’s clear that those who do this for a living are having an enormous impact on people’s lives, oftentimes alleviating heartbreak or even saving them from it. These folks are making a huge difference!