Monday, February 11, 2013

"He' aint' haughty, he's my brother"

"Esquire" magazine's Rule No 1,002: People in mobility scooters always seem a little haughty.

I take the term "mobility scooters" to mean battery powered wheelchairs or the 3- or 4-wheeled scooters steered with handlebars, all of which are used by persons with physical disability to get around in their day-to-day activities. Let me tell you about a  man who uses one.

I volunteer at the VA Medical Facility once a week and I spend a lot of time waiting in the lobby of the hospital there, observing the comings and goings of the veterans who are there for medical treatment.  A not insignificant number of these men and women move about the building in those "mobility scooters" to which Esquire's "rule" refers. With some the need is readily apparent to the casual observer, others not so much because not all infirmities are visible to the naked eye - but one has to think that any one of them would much rather be able to walk than to have to ride in a motorized device.

I first saw the man who is the subject of this narrative several weeks ago and I have seen him a few times since.  He moves about the hospital building in a motorized wheelchair which he controls with a "joy stick" that  he operates with his left hand, because that is the only extremity he has - his right arm and both legs are missing! I was pretty impressed with his ability to move about easily and confidently despite missing three limbs and I was amazed, and glad, that his "mobility scooter" afforded him the independence that he exercised as he didn't seem to require an assistant or even a service animal to help him get around. But there's more, I learned.

The next time I saw him I happened to be outside in the hospital parking lot when he approached a van near me and stopped near the side door. He apparently used a remote control because the door opened and a lift came down so he could "drive" onto it, lift himself into the van, close the door behind him and move to the "driver's seat". I watched the van start, back out of the parking spot and proceed to move down the road; and because I was just leaving too, I followed him off the hospital grounds and down the highway for several miles and not once did he drive in a fashion that would in any way indicate the van was not being operated by an "able bodied" driver. I guess the van was like a "mobility scooter" on steroids, because it certainly provided him with the ability to  move about independently to a degree that I would not have imagined possible.

As a footnote to the story, I recently saw him at the hospital accompanied by a woman whom I took to be his wife, but of course maybe she wasn't. In any event when they left the hospital and went to the van, her presence didn't change his routine one bit and he drove the van away with her in the passenger's seat - but I guess that's to be expected as she probably doesn't know how to operate the adaptive controls that allow him to drive. But it still made me chuckle.

So "haughty"? No, I don't think so.  Anyone who uses a "mobility scooter", be it a veteran or a civilian with a disability for whatever reason, would rather be able to walk and for a publication like "Esquire" to print a "rule" that they seem haughty is insensitive at best, and I think arrogant, too.  Apparently the editors of the magazine don't know anyone who has a physical debility that limits their mobility - but even so why would they go out of their way to publish a "rule" that stigmatizes everyone who needs mechanical assistance to increase their mobility? They should rescind the "rule" and apologize to everyone for ever publishing it.

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