My wife and I recently drove from Atlanta to Detroit, a two-day interstate slog that covers several hundred miles and gets even longer when you try to avoid the endless work zone known as Ohio. Despite all that time on the road, the most enlightening part of the trip for me was a ride on the mean sidewalks of the Motor City, aboard a mobility scooter.
You’ve probably seen these at the big-box or the grocery store. Most often used by victims of stroke, arthritis, lung disease, and heart trouble, scooters can transform the quality of life for those with severe disabilities. My wife’s arthritis isn’t that bad but it makes long walks difficult, so her scooter was ideal for a jazz festival in Detroit, with four stages spread over several blocks.
A few snarky commentators, especially in England, think some scooter users are lazy sods who just don’t feel like walking. This, as they say in the UK, is bollocks. As I learned the day I retrieved the scooter from the hotel, no one would climb on these things if they had any choice.
First of all, scooters don’t have shocks. Every little crack and rough spot in the pavement goes straight to the seat, and big holes really rattle your teeth. I felt like I was bouncing all the way to the festival. Second, your carefree way of walking is over. You can’t just cross the street; you have to look for the cutout curb. And good luck getting through a non-automatic door.
Navigating a crowd is a struggle because of all the nubs* with their eyes glued to screens and their earbuds in so they won’t even hear your bell. You’re constantly slowing down, speeding up, and shifting left or right to keep from bumping somebody. On top of that, you have to watch for little kids running loose and big ones breezing past you on those dumb two-wheel scooters, which they later drop in the middle of the sidewalk and block your path. The speed control allows you to putter along at a good clip, but between crowds and bad concrete, I could’ve gone faster on foot.
All of this can be stressful, even if you’re not already coping with a serious disability. I’ll never take mobility for granted again.
The next time you see someone on a scooter, please understand that it’s a necessity, not an indulgence. Open the door for them. Ask if you can help with their bags. And all of us should insist that people with disabilities receive accommodations. We were told the jazz festival didn’t reserve space at concerts for fans who use wheelchairs or scooters. Think we’ll make that long drive to Detroit again?
*A dense, spectacularly clueless person. Derived from Navy jargon: “non-usable body.”