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.


FridaWrites said...

Thank you. I've twice had my bones broken by pedestrians but haven't caused injury to others and hope not to. That's as likely to injure me.

Mary said...

I definitely think there should be training made available to people before they go out in public on a mobility scooter.

But in that little video by the BBC a policeman gave a novice driver a quick list of the controls on the dashboard and then told him to set off round the course. That's not training.

When the guy inevitably hit some of the markers he got stood over, told off, and made to feel bad ("what if that had been a person?!") by the policeman but at no point did I hear a more experienced scooter user actually offering anything constructive that might be considered training - you know, helpful tips like "turn the main speed down to about half" or "remember to keep checking to both sides".

Plus, of course, I've yet to meet a pedestrian OR a box of vegetables which is two inches tall, six inches in diameter, and conical in shape.

JackP said...

I don't necessarily know about 'three strikes and you're ... off (?)' but I can understand some of the backlash, having been menaced by drivers of these things in Gateshead before, on at least four times now.

Twice it's been someone zooming up the pavement, faster than walking speed, and with no inclination to drive around people, forcing people to jump out of the way or be hit.

One time, I saw a scooter driver hit a child's buggy waiting at the lights to cross the road, and then the woman driving the scooter berated the child's mother for not getting out of her way.

I am quite happy to accept that the vast majority of scooter users are responsible members of the community, and some are not (or are not capable of controlling their vehicle adequately) -- exactly the same as would apply to other motorists, pedestrians etc.

That's not to say that the reporting around the subject was of the required quality; but it is to say that some scooter drivers are a menace -- and the rest of the public have a right to be protected from them.

I think we therefore need a mechanism to separate considerate, reasonable drivers (of whatever age, gender, disability and weight) from those unwilling or incapable of driving safely. This would hopefully improve sasfety AND stop people lumping all scooter users into the same basket.

The Goldfish said...

Thanks folks.

JackP - thing is about speed is that legally, anything that goes faster than 4mph shouldn't be on the pavement. That's a brisk walking speed, so if scooters are travelling faster than that in pedestrian traffic they are breaking the law and that law should be enforced (because it could be extremely dangerous, not least for disabled pedestrians).

I think much of my resistance to any kind of formal testing is that the scooter is often the mobility aid of choice for people with a limited, variable and deteriorating ability to walk. Moving from walking everywhere to using a scooter (or wheelchair) is usually a slow and emotional process and any kind of formal testing would make it much more difficult for people to dip their toe in or use the thing casually, temporarily. If testing was absolutely necessary, then this would be tough luck, but I have my doubts.

Everything you describe comes down to a lack of respect for other people on the part of scooter-users, not a lack of proficiency you might easily test for...

Terri said...

The attitude of WE (the superior able-bodied) should be able to decide which of YOU are competent to be among us is just offensive.

And it is clearly ableist. Car accidents cause much more damage and there are certainly bullies and incompetents behind the wheel, but they aren't on a 3 strikes and you're out system (at least not in the US.)

I would love to read an article that says 'Isn't it awful that people with disabilities were stuck in their homes until the advent of scooters and such? We never want to lose them again. How can we make sure that there are a range of mobility options, accessible environments and supports available so that everyone can look forward to a life of participation and welcome out and about in our town whether they can walk or not.'

Jess said...

What appallingly lazy journalism. When the the BBC turn into the Sun?

Are you still guest-blogging for the BBC Ouch site, Goldfish? I would hope this post ends up there in some form, or at least that some other writer there highlights a link to it. Take it right to the source and see they print it, I say.

seahorse said...

Hands up on this one. The first time I used a mobility scooter I knocked over a display in Smiths and hurt a woman in the leg. I was inexperienced and fatigued. With a course, and some awareness about when to use my scooter and when perhaps not to, I feel this could have been avoided. At the very least shop mobility desks should provide an advice leaflet and get you to steer round a couple of chairs on the pavement. It's not rocket science mechanically, but fine tuning your condition to being behind the wheel can be more complex. I hasten to add that I went on to become an exemplary scooter user, never going at speed and remaining patient at all times. For my own sake as much as anyone else's. I agree that in my wheelchair, peoples' attitudes changed. It was all a far more serious business, like I must have been crippled in a car accident or summat. Because in a scooter? Well, they just didn't get it. I wasn't old you see.

FridaWrites said...

Seahorse is right--accidents can happen at first--embarrassingly so and when we're fatigued--just as pedestrians trip or knock into each other. But I have never seen the media advocate for consideration of people with disabilities--I show far more consideration of pedestrians than they do of me.

lauredhel said...

"just as pedestrians trip or knock into each other."


Media-saturation outrage is strictly limited to the heavily ableist and ageist varieties. And to those who are actively fighting accessibility legislation, on the grounds that you "can't legislate compassion", with the assumption that in the good old days, we all got along.

I don't see any abled folks stomping around suggesting testing and licencing for the menace we experience constantly of typically-bipedal people thwacking us with their bags, cutting in front of us in queues, treading on us, walking into us, knocking us over.

Coming at this issue purely from an able-bodied rights perspective pretty much ensures people will do it wrong. You feel you have to be on constant alert lest other people randomly injure you? Welcome to our world. Now that we understand each other, let's talk.

I barely get out; I have very limited spoons. I learnt to use my scooter by the scooter rep coming to my house and teaching me, free of charge. If I'd had to try to get to a training and licencing centre - what, by driving there? How long would I have to sit up for? Would it be at a set time when I may unpredictably be unable to move? - it may well not have happened.

Gone Fishing said...

Off topic but you may find this debate interesting, NZ for far too long has seemingly made only nodding respect to Human Rights, particularly of differently enabled people

Stephen said...

I remember quite distinctly an incident in a garden centre where a young child (I'm rubbish guessing ages of people who gurgle) was left to run about and decided it'd be fun to make a grab for my scooter controls - whilst stood slap bang infront of me. Had I not turned off the power as he touched the accelerator, it could have well killed him.

Who was in the wrong? Who got glared at? Guess.

The speed matter is by far the most important. Scooters capable of doing more than 4mph have a switch that limits them to 4mph. That said, I have previously done a back to back test and a '4mph' scooter was actually faster than a limited 8mph scooter. Likewise there were a number of 8mph scooters imported to the UK which were capable of doing up to 12mph (some problem with the speed control unit). So there's not much chance of legally following the speed with no ability to judge it.

But mainly it's the problem with speeding offenses in general and their enforcement which I think needs to be addressed. It is widely accepted even amongst members of the police that the motorway speed limit is closer to 80. Sorry? I thought the limit was 70 and anything over that was breaking the law? No? Does that only apply when a camera catches you doing that? It's ridiculous. I think speed limits should be set properly and then enforced. Whether in a car, bike or scooter. If I had my way, there'd be an additional speed limit insideof 2mph. And if any more women let their over-stuffed handbags swing and smack me in the face whilst dithering in M&S, they should be charged with assault with a deadly weapon and made to eat every half-used lipstick residing in said weapon.

lilacsigil said...

Great post! I'm not a scooter user, but I am a balance-impaired person and have often been hit by people with shopping trolleys in supermarkets. Personally, I think that there should be a test required to use those things! I mean, can't they just stay home and pay to have their shopping delivered? My convenience is far more important than their ability to get around!

IrrationalPoint said...

Excellent post. Thanks so much. I think Lauredhel and others also hit it right on the button when they pointed out that pedestrians, cars, bikes, and others who use cars and pavements are not on a 3-strikes-and-you're-out system, despite being able to injure in collisions. But for some reasons we always focus on the "menace" of mobility scooter users, and rarely on the responsibility of other users of public space.

In situations where someone definitely is not able to handle a scooter or other motorised mobility aid, there needs to be funding available so that they keep their mobility get out in other ways. The DLA is much too limited at present, and if motorised mobility aids are going to start being taken away from some people, then there needs to be some other system for those people. (NB, obviously there are people who need the DLA for other reasons apart from mobility).

"Twice it's been someone zooming up the pavement, faster than walking speed, and with no inclination to drive around people, forcing people to jump out of the way or be hit."

Obviously I can't comment on your particular experiences, but FWIW, it genuinely is the case that most scooters are less maneuverable than most pedestrians, and most pavements are generally not wide enough to go around others easily. Which in my experience usually means that either I stop or the pedestrians stop, because one of us has to give way to the other. Pedestrians are usually pretty reluctant to give way to a scooter that's moving off once I've stopped, so usually my only option is to continue moving, but at a reduced speed and say "excuse me" a lot.


Renee said...

Thanks for this. I cannot tell you how many times I have been viewed as threat while the pedestrian who is paying no attention where they are walking is acceptable. This is diseableism put and simply. It is about denying those of us who are diffrently abled the right to take up space.

seahorse said...

See what you did there? We miss you xx

The Goldfish said...

Thanks everyone,

Jess - Guest-blogging ended a while back, but the subject (though not the article) was covered by Disability Bitch this week here.

Seahorse - thanks, I'm hoping to gradually get back to blogging something like regularly.

Anonymous said...

I think that people who use scooters could benefit from the kind of advanced driving course I took for my car when I was 18. The idea of the entire thing was to make you a better driver by giving you the basics on how inertia affects driving, how to protect yourself from others driving unsafely, and how to get the best handling out of your car. I certainly wouldn't want it required, but it would be a great thing to see offered. I don't know how many people would be willing to give a whole day to that kind of training, and perhaps a shorter version would be needed, but I can say with great certainty that I am a better driver for having taken that course.

This focus on scooters being 'oh so dangerous' is ridiculous, though. I mean, I've been hit by scooters (the rental type, which always seem to be the hardest to control - quite the problem, as the people who drive them tend to be the least experienced). I ended up bruised rather badly once, and with a sprained ankle the other time, but most of what happened to me was that it scared the living daylights out of me because I didn't see it coming. I've had significantly worse collisions, including concussions and disloations, with people on their own two feet.

Most of the scooter/walking person accidents I've seen involved the walking person darting in front of the scooter and not leaving enough room. They're the same kind of people who will dart in front of a loaded grocery cart and expect you not to hit them.

Anyhow, what I'm trying to say is that if there is a danger (which I think there isn't), at least part of the solution is getting pedestrians to think and not put themselves in the path of a collision.


Anonymous said...

Kali: It's not just about being "willing" to devote a whole day to it, it's about being able to. Not all scooter users have unlimited energy and unlimited ability to sit up. Add to that somehow transporting oneself to a remote location and, if driving, loading/unloading the scooter, and some of us would already be simply unable to do a course at all, or only able to do a half hour or so.

If rental scooters are a big problem, perhaps it's worth thinking about why so many PWD are reliant on rentals - not being able to afford a scooter, because insurance doesn't pay, because there is no insurance, because doctors and companies don't believe we're "disabled enough". Maybe there are other systemic solutions to the rental-scooters-are-dangerous issue that not only don't put more burden on PWD, but ease it.

IrrationalPoint said...

Absolutely, Lauredhel. PWDs are often reliant on scooters because of infrastructure issues like poor public transport. Improving public transport systems won't completely remove the need for scooters, of course, but it will make life much easier for disabled and non-disabled people.

Stephen said...

I thought you might appreciate that, since posting, I've found out that during moving house, a rather excited removals chappy wanted to have a go on my scooter whilst putting it away. What did he do? Drove it into the back of the shed, breaking part of a wooden upright.

Consider this your first strike, Carrs Carriers!

Diane J Standiford said...

I drove my trusty scooter for many years. I have MS and without my scooyer I could not have kept my job with the city of Seattle, WA---many steep hills downtown where I worked and up a 62 story skyscraper an entire city block long/wide. I never had any accidents but bycycke messagengers sure hurt people and cars of course; I am so insulted by such assumptions. I felt them at my job and going to the grocery or for java---"Oh, I wish I had your scooter!" "Oh, I wish I had your ability to walk, want to trade?" Grrrr

Wonderful World of Mobility said...

Well thankfully we can rely on our polititians to be more reasoned.

Oh wait, here's Sadiq Kahn, the The Minister of State, Department for Transport recommending that mobility scooters be fitted with the same safety features as remote control cars.

Mobility Scooter Menace (Again)

Amber DiPietra said...

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