There's nothing quite like legs

A couple of weeks back I wrote about a recent experience using trains as a disabled person. As one reader pointed out, part of my problem was that I had chosen to buy a mobility scooter that was too big to be taken on public transport.

Scooters come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be three-wheeled or four-wheeled; have a small, hard plastic seat or a large, soft captain’s chair. Some come with suspension and pneumatic tyres, others can be dismantled and stored in a suitcase. Some have the ability to ravel at 8mph and get up and down kerbs, others can’t get faster than 4mph.

But none meet the full range of what I need.

The scooter acts as my legs when I am moving around outdoors. By walking, one can access trains and buses, make last minute decisions to go somewhere, get up and down steps, move over fields or dirt tracks without feeling sick, and keep warm whilst outdoors. I can turn on the spot and squeeze through narrow gaps.

On a scooter, I can only access buses or trains if my scooter is sufficiently small and, in the case of trains, I have booked in advance. I can’t get up and down steps, which makes the many, many shops that have one step up or down inaccessible to me. Every stray stick or stone, every pot-hole, every tussock of grass vibrates and jolts through the frame of the scooter into my body. Sitting outdoors whilst moving at 4 or 8mph creates a wind-chill that means any temperature below about 18oC is cold. My turning circle doesn’t begin to compare with that of a person standing on their feet, meaning many shops with narrow aisles are inaccessible as I can’t get round the corners at the ends.

The different models of scooters means there are different trade-offs to be made.

I could choose a small scooter that can go on public transport. But the suspension would be terrible – and I mean really terrible - which would make my pain even worse and make off-road mobility a very bad idea. Such a scooter would be unable to climb kerbs, meaning not only could I not access shops with small steps but I also would be unable to cross roads in the many locations where the dropped kerb is still a significant step. Small scooters – small enough for public transport – rarely have speeds over 4mph, but that doubles the time spent sitting in the cold compared to an 8mph scooter.

I could choose a scooter that goes 8mph. The smallest I have seen is the Rascal Liteway 8, but it is still too big to be taken by the majority of trains. Unusually for a scooter of this speed and size the Rascal can be dismantled, which means it can be transported in medium-sized family cars. But as it dismantles into five pieces rather than into one suitcase it is still excluded from trains even in its dismantled state.

The Rascal has relatively good suspension and is very well engineered, but it is still nauseating to use it over grass or rough surfaces. It also isn’t a kerb climber. So whilst it is a good choice if you live somewhere where the road is in good repair – which I don’t – and if you are likely to want to take it in a car to another location with smooth surfaces, it isn’t a good choice if you want to go off-road or be able to get up and down kerbs.

The scooter I have is an Invacare Comet, often described as the Rolls Royce of mobility scooters. At 147.5x66 cm, no train or bus company will take it. Using ramps it will go in the back to my parent’s 6-seater Fiat Scudo if the rear seats are removed, but it wouldn’t get into anything that is much smaller. It does however have fantastic suspension and climbs kerbs very well, which makes it ideal for getting around where I live.

I have such a large scooter because smaller scooters lack the level of comfort and practicality I need. Little ‘shopping’ scooters with their lack of back support would be too tiring for me, the lack of suspension would make it too painful, the 4mph limit makes them slow and cold, and the inability to climb kerbs renders them impractical for use anywhere other than a shopping precinct. Having put back support, suspension, 8mph and kerb-climbing as the priorities I immediately exclude myself from any scooter than can go on public transport.

Much as I would like to have a scooter that goes on public transport and fits in the boot of a car, no scooter exists that meets all these requirements.

If I could walk I wouldn’t have issues with pain or fatigue, or getting up and down steps, or getting cold when outside, or using public transport, or getting into and around shops.

Until someone builds a scooter that matches public transport requirements, has excellent suspension with a captain’s seat, climbs kerbs, travels at 8mph and has an excellent turning circle, my mobility will continue to be restricted. There’s nothing quite like having the use of one’s legs.

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