Stairway to Safety: A New Stairwell Invention

| News | January 31, 2019

by Natalia Radcliffe

Darleen Peterson, a woman in her late eighties, has recently invented a contraption that makes it easier for citizens in wheelchairs to descend stairs in times of emergency.

In a nutshell, the invention consists of separate sections of wood which are attached to a wall under a stair railing that can be pulled out and over stairs when needed.

Peterson said kitchen doors are a good idea as models for the sections of wood, as they only cost $40 to $45 per door, and are easy to install.

This is because the hinges of the kitchen doors would be attached to the wall closest to the stairs, allowing them to fold up under the railing when they are not in use. The hole where the doorknob usually is would have a rope or chain looped through it, so the doors could easily be pulled down over the stairs.


To prevent the users in wheelchairs from flying down the ramp over the stairs, there would be a contraption similar to the mechanism that rolls up a garden hose at the top the stairs. One end of a chain or rope would attach to the wheelchair, and the other end would be looped around the contraption. A person would slowly release the chain as the person in the wheelchair goes down the ramp.

Depending on how wide the pieces of wood are cut, people who can walk down stairs on their own would be able to use them at the same time.

Peterson’s inspiration to invent this contraption was attained from her own life.

She lives a multi-story building, and on a normal day, her fellow disabled neighbors use the elevators to access the bottom floor.

However, in the case of a fire or earthquake, for example, there is a good chance the elevators will not work. Even though there is a backup system, Peterson said it is not reliable. When this happens, her neighbors in wheelchairs are stuck on the upper floors with no way out.

While Peterson was home one summer day, the power went out for a few hours. This served as the catalyst to for her to ponder how her wheelchair-bound neighbors would be able to get to the bottom floor in an emergency.

“I was just sitting here with nothing to do, and thought there has to be a way to get these people down the stairs,” she said.

Peterson said this contraption will aid her disabled neighbors in getting to safety faster during an emergency, while giving firefighters and other emergency personnel time to deal with emergency situations, such as natural disasters.

She has shown her plan to two local firefighter captains and the Fire Marshal in Sacramento, and they liked the idea.

She is hoping to get approval from state officials in Sacramento to allow her to move forward with turning this invention into a reality.

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