The State Lifted to New Heights (of Stupidity)
November 4, 2009
I work in a second-floor office suite accessible only by stairs. It would be unfortunate for you if you needed wheelchair access to our office but there is neither any reason why such access would be anyone’s right nor is it a law that we provide that access. Understandably, the owner of the building opted not to install a $40,000 elevator on the outside of the building.
Now follow me in your mind to the inside of our beautiful suite. If you turn right after walking through the front door, you will come to another small set of stairs taking you from the upper to the lower level of a split-level design. The lower level contains the kitchen and a pair of bathrooms. On your way down, you will notice an odd white monstrosity on the other side of the banister, emblazoned with a large sticker that reads “Porch-Lift” and the international symbol for wheelchair access. Max load: 750 lbs, one person. Do not use for freight or storage.
Why on Earth would the owner install this $7,000 wheelchair lift when there is no way (short of carrying the hypothetical 750lb. wheelchair-bound individual up a flight of stairs from the street) – or legal requirement – for someone in a wheelchair to even get into the suite in the first place? Is the owner mad? Eccentric? Simply poor at reasoning?
The answer is “None of the above.” The actual answer has to do with what is at the bottom of those small interior split-level stairs: the bathrooms. State and/or federal regulations (the exact law is unclear but when does that matter?) require that the bathrooms must be wheelchair accessible. Never you mind that there is not a companion regulation requiring the suite itself to be wheelchair accessible. The suite must have the lift under penalty of law. The state demanded, despite all protestations appealing to the obvious logic of the matter, that the owner spend $7,000 of his own money to install a lift that will never be used. Why? Because it says so on this here legislation, sir.
To be completely accurate, it is used on occasion during the regular (unannounced and intrusive) state-mandated inspection and function tests. Normally, these tests involve a little paper work and a quick up and down trip sans load. Today, however, we received a special treat: the five-year load test! Two inspectors carried 15 50lb barbell plates (totaling the magic 750lbs) one at a time up the outside stairs, into the suite, and onto the Porch-Lift. The lift passed the test – after all, it is in practically new condition – and then 15 more trips saw the iron back to a waiting truck.
The lesson I learned was that if we are willing to meet our full-bladdered obese friend down on the street, chop her and her wheelchair into 15 pieces, and carry them up the stairs to the Porch-Lift, then we can rest assured that she won’t have to face the insurmountable steps down to our private bathrooms.
The lesson I already knew by heart was that the state does not care how much it increases the cost of doing business or living your life with no logical, juridical, or moral justification.