Monday, January 18, 2010


Jack Pickard has died. Jack was in his mid-thirties, married with two little boys. Apparently, this was very sudden and unexpected. The news is difficult to comprehend.

I was not close to Jack but he was a friend and someone I've “seen” several times a week for years. He was an entertaining and eclectic blogger – he blogged about current affairs, technology, football, Dr Who, books and philosophy. But to me, the two most notable things about the blogger Jack were his excellent sense of humour and his tremendous sense of fair-play. Inequality, unfairness in any form, from any quarter was anathema to him. And yet he was extremely reasonable in his arguments, never ad hominem, always sincere. His last non-football-related post is a good example.

Jack was a prolific commenter here - many of you will have seen him around. He was a supportive and enthusiastic promoter and participant in Blogging Against Disablism Day, despite being, as he put it, “disability-challenged” (non-disabled).

There's nothing positive to be said about such a death other than it was good to have him around. I feel so very very sorry for his family and close friends to have to lose him so suddenly when he had so much yet to do.

See also Ian Cuddy's post Jack Pickard Remembered and James' We'll miss you Jack

Thursday, January 07, 2010

It's my pavement and I'll cry if I want to

I probably got more distracted by this than I ought to have but it made me cross.

Contrary to a photo caption in this BBC News article, scooters do have an image problem and if they didn't already, articles like this wouldn't help.

Scooter-users are not quite as readily identified as disabled in the same way wheelchair-users are. There are practical as well as social reasons why some people prefer scooters to wheelchairs and vice versa, but since the largest group of scooter-users are older people, and impaired mobility is often seen as an inevitable part of the aging process, scooter-users don't read as disabled in our dominant tragedy and charity models of disability. Accommodation of disabled people hinges on sympathy and compassion, not automatic respect. Old people who have difficulty walking just aren't tragic enough. In fact, they're mildly amusing;
No official statistics exist for the number of accidents involving the scooters, but there are tales from around the country of old ladies steering into shop windows, mobility scooters trundling along motorways and even people driving off railway platforms.
Ha ha ha! A number of scooter-users are quoted in the article and having resisted the temptation to detail the tweed and tea-cosy style hats they were probably wearing, the author opts for tirelessly stating each of their ages, to remind us that these are just doddery old folk (starting at age sixty-four - ancient!). Not people who count. Not people who should be assumed to be sensible and responsible or people whose quality of life really matters. So an underemployed MP (no age given) can suggest a “three-strikes and you're out” rule on scooter-users, and it won't occur to anybody that you're talking about threatening the means a person has to leave their houses independently.

There is only extremely anecdotal evidence of any Mobility Scooter Menace. There are accidents, but then there are lots more accidents involving people on their feet, on bicycles, on rollerskates or skateboards, children in prams and pushchairs. People collide with, trip over and fall down things and other people every day. The article throws in a the odd allegedly and apparently but otherwise presumes the moral liability of scooter-users in each accident they are known to have been involved in, as well as a host of hearsay events:
“In the market place if you speak to the traders they will always tell you a tale of their vegetables being knocked over or people being run into by mobility scooter users," says Penny Carpenter, of Norfolk Police. "Some people have even been banned from stores for knocking over aisles."
Again, it doesn't say how old the police spokeswoman is, so we'll have to assume she's relatively young, making the voice of secondhand experience more reliable than the firsthand experience of any old dear on a scooter.

It may be that there are incompetent scooter-users driving into market stalls and store aisles. Or it could be that having no consideration for people with mobility-impairments, market traders and store workers have piled displays and produce up in walkways, leaving only narrow gaps for people to walk through and insufficient room for a wheelchair, scooter, anyone with crutches or an otherwise wide gait. My wheelchair is not nearly so bulky as a scooter, but even in a supermarket I bump into things because there isn't enough room.

I rarely bump into people, but it is hard work not to. Some pedestrians can be extremely absent-minded, expecting to be able to move about at terrific speeds and suddenly stop or change direction without collision. Quite apart from the fact that such people put themselves at risk, they are a genuine menace to those ambulant disabled people who walk slowly and are vulnerable to being knocked down. They should have to pass a test! If a pedestrian is involved in three accidents, they should have all their shoes and socks confiscated!

Probability dictates that some scooter users are a menace, some will careless and selfish, others will have cognitive and neurological issues which make them unsafe. Giving people the option of a proficiency test isn't a bad idea, but mostly because it is likely to be helpful to them, to help them learn how to use their scooters and to give them greater confidence.

However, articles like these (compared to the same story in the Telegraph, which isn't perfect but a great improvement) are a bit of a filler about nothing that give people with non-disabled privilege a license to moan about disabled people taking up space. They read that grannies are running amok with mobility scooters – even though there's no evidence of a widespread problem – and this is highly satisfying. So they'll be allowed to tut at and patronise scooter-users, blaming them for any accidents and bothering a little less about accessibility because half these people shouldn't be allowed out.

And at the bottom of the page, as well as a lot of daft comments about insurance (wheelchairs and scooters have the same insurance status as bicycles – it's not at all complicated), there are the usual gems such as
"Mobility scooters should be for those in real need of them, unfortunately this is not always the case."
Because it is an act of charity that you allow any scooter-user to share the pavement with you, and it must be a real worry that some of them less than fully deserving. Ideally, they'd have to make an application to each of us in writing. Failing that, we should each be issued with one of those little scanners that Dr McCoy had in Star Trek, so we can tell a person's physical condition as they pass by. Because it really is important, just now we only have sight to go on and some of them don't look nearly as needy as we'd like:
"Most seem to be driven by younger obese people rather than the image portrayed in the article of the elderly using them to get out and about."
Because again, tolerating the presence of disabled people in your physical environment is a charitable act and nobody who is young or fat scores enough tragedy points. This has nothing to do with subject of safety, of course, it merely follows the general theme of justifying one's own prejudice and privilege. I did notice that younger scooter users were completely ignored in the article, so intent as it was on that light-hearted ageist spin, but youth doesn't make any difference to how safe or competent a person is. Weight is even less of a factor. Renee wrote about the nonsense around fat folk and scooters just last week.

BBC News isn't doing great this week. Yesterday there was an article asking whether the quest for the G-spot has helped or hindered womankind, ignoring the five year old remap of clitoris, written by a man. Hmm.