I believe that for any physical or other difficulty, there is a range of solutions available for individuals to choose from. The decision of which equipment to use to meet which difficulty, when, where, how and why is completely up to the individual to choose, and it can be as complex as they like. Individuals do not have to explain their decision to use one device over another although they do need to be aware of the consequences of their actions, and the relevant pros and cons.
A good example of this is the difference between an electric wheelchair and a mobility scooter, including what they are intended for. I am finding increasingly that users, professionals and transport providers are assuming they are the same kind of device, doing the same things in the same way when this is far from the case.
The fundamental difference between a mobility scooter and an electric wheelchair for myself is that you sit in a wheelchair while you sit on a scooter. This does not seem much but it is a very important difference.
People who use wheelchairs can be assumed to be unable to walk in any effective manner, even if this is not the case, and have the legal right under accessibility laws and regulations to stay in their chair at all times in a public setting. The only setting where a wheelchair user is required and expected to transfer to a normal seat is when they are travelling by plane, something that is likely to remain the case for some time. Society and the built environment fully accepts the need and case for wheelchair accessibility.
A mobility scooter is for people who can not walk long distances. It is an outdoor use vehicle that was designed to assist people to access their local community and to be hired at town or city centres as ‘Shopmobility’ schemes. While a wheelchair may be something people are clinically assessed for, mobility scooters are mostly privately funded devices purchased as a desire.
For someone with deteriorating mobility difficulties, the hardest psychological milestone to accept can be that they now need to use a wheelchair of some kind. Using a mobility scooter does not have the same stigma attached to it, and this is why more people are increasingly using their mobility scooters as if they were wheelchairs, demanding equal access to public transport and public buildings.
The problem is mobility scooters are generally larger and heavier than wheelchairs, as well as not having the same manoeuvrability. The law and current accessibility regulations were not designed for mobility scooters to be used in the same way as wheelchairs. Therefore, the current dilemma is whether society now accepts mobility scooters in the same way as wheelchairs, despite safety concerns, or whether people are reminded of the limitations of using a mobility scooter over a wheelchair.
As I discovered on my recent cruise, as people with higher support needs are pushed to the side with the dramatic increase of people defining themselves as having a minor impairment, more people are seen to be using mobility scooters than wheelchairs. This means people arranging assistance on cruises and holidays are more likely assume and cater for people using mobility scooters, as opposed to wheelchairs.
And here we have reached my current annoyance, that I am finding more people are referring to my wheelchair as a scooter because this is the device they are more aware of. But it is a different device with different implications for assistance and other providers, like you should not store electric wheelchairs outside as it is not healthy for them. It is also a form of laziness that I personally find insensitive.
People who support people with mobility difficulties as a part of their job should understand the range of solutions available as well as their cultural significance for people with differing understandings of their mobility needs.
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