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Every morning at 7 am, 82-year-old Wang Xingchan is transported down the stairs from his fifth-floor apartment in Shanghai to receive his daily medical treatment.
He"s helped with the use a manually operated wheelchair specifically designed for going up and down stairs, by a specially-trained operator who fastens his seat belt, tilts the chair back and controls the ascent or descent.
It takes around six minutes each way, in Wang"s case, according to the Shanghai-based newspaper Jiefang Daily.
"It"s our job to help my father-in-law leave home and go to hospital for dialysis treatment three times a week," said Sun Xiaoqin, daughter-in-law of Wang. She also books the wheelchair lift service for 2 pm in the afternoon to assist the senior"s return home.
"The service frees us from bothering friends and neighbors to carry him up or down the stairs, which became inevitable around 10 years ago," Sun said.
The semi-automatic stair-climbing service, launched in Shanghai in 2013, assists seniors or people who are unable to leave their own home without assistance from others to move easily between different floors of multistory buildings.
The machine is a goods trolley-like device with a wheelchair installed on a fixed conveyor. When users sit in the chair safely, operators start the machine which then pushes or pulls the chair downstairs or upstairs.
According to Ji Zhongqi, manager of a relevant service agency in Shanghai, the machine isn"t fixed on stair handrails in order to mitigate potential risks of them being unstable or damaged.
Staff conduct regular maintenance on the special wheelchairs and the conveyors at the base to maintain and ensure effective use.
It has become a great alternative for those who need help moving up and down stairs, compared to moving to another home or installing a residential elevator - which is extremely costly. Residents can reserve the chair lift service by phone or via relevant mobile apps.
For Sun, the emotional relief and the sense of freedom these chairs have provided her and her father-in-law is priceless.
"We benefit a lot from the service, as moving a senior up and down stairs without such a device is potentially dangerous and seniors are likely to feel trapped and helpless due to the difficulties of going outside.
"It only costs 2 yuan (0.29 cents) each time, and those with a disability certificate can get free vouchers to use the service. Compared with employing a home nurse, which can cost over 200 yuan a day, ordering the service is a great deal," Sun added.
Wei Yunfang, a 62-year-old suffering from atrophic arthritis, said the service allows her to communicate with people in her neighborhood.
"I rely on the service to climb and descend stairs two days per week to go to food markets nearby, where I can chat with people my age," said Wei.
"It is sweet and operators of the machine often help carry bags for me as well."
However, Wei claims that it is difficult to make an appointment for all the times she needs.
"It is truly in short supply now, as the aged population grows in the city," said Xu Jing, director of Haiyang Pension Services which undertakes stair-climbing services for six neighborhoods in Shanghai.
"Moreover, most of the elderly reserve long-term services at the same time range every day, which exacerbates the situation."
Xu"s observation is confirmed by a recent investigation by the Federation of People with Disabilities in Yangpu district in Shanghai. The result showed that 90 percent of around 22,000 users in the district reserve the service for daily medical treatment at similar time windows.
The federation said related departments are trying to solve the problem by coordinating times among customers, expanding employment opportunities for professional operators, and manufacturing more machines.
Cao Chen contributed to this story.
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