I have not talked about this on Pink Heretic before. I have several health issues which have caused me to have mobility issues. My ability to move around has steadily declined over the past few years. It had gotten to the point where I no longer went out to do some casual shopping trips, no longer went on any day trips that involved any more than a few minutes of walking. I just can’t do it anymore. I lose balance, I get the shakes, and I get very lightheaded and need many rest stops. My family and myself have missed out on lots of experiences together because of it. After trying out a hire wheelchair at a shopping center on a holiday we discovered that a wheelchair was not a great option. My husband had to push me around and didn’t feel as if he could be part of the shopping trip because he had to go where I wanted to. If he went elsewhere, my children who don’t yet have a lot of strength to control a wheelchair had to. I LOVED getting out and about, but did not enjoy not being able to do my own thing without help.
So about a month ago, we decided it was time for a mobility scooter. It has been downright wonderful to get out and about again. To be able to go on a 2hr shopping trip with my kids is just awesome. My scooter looks very similar to the one in the photo. It is portable, so we can get it in our station wagon, (crap now we will forever need a station wagon!) drive it to where we need it and my daughter is able to get it out of the car for me. I can get it out on my own if I need to or with the help of my son. This mobility scooter is just wonderful. It has given me freedom I didn’t know I was missing. Well I did, but tried not to dwell. I did however hate missing out on time with my family.
I have managed a few shopping trips in the lead up to Christmas and for the most part have found my experience very positive, with very helpful members of the public when it comes to moving around on my scooter. Small overfilled shops are a problem for the scooter, but luckily I can have one of my kids mind it while I have a short wander inside. I expected to be looked at, stared at because I am also overweight. I expected people to look at me on the scooter and think me lazy because I ‘choose’ not to walk. So far that hasn’t happened as far as I know and for that I am grateful. I would dearly love to walk. I miss being able to do so. I miss being active. I miss doing things with the family.
Tonight I had a new experience on the scooter. We went to see some Christmas light displays in a local park. There were bitumen walkways and lots of people. We had left it a little too late in the season and should have gone earlier when it was a bit quieter. It was slow going maneuvering through the crowds, but it was wonderful to be able to do it. My son took great delight in the fact that he was not the only one who was too short to see some exhibits. Then we started to head back up the busiest walkway to head out the front entrance. We had to travel in the opposite direction of most of the crowd. Some people go stuck behind us as I went as fast as I could steer through the crowd. I can go full walking pace but maneuvering on a scooter in a crowd is slower than walking as you can’t zig zag as much.
A teenage boy got impatient with me and decided to run past me and then cut directly and diagonally in front of me. He did not notice that I was on a scooter. He cut so tightly in front of me that I could not stop in time and I ran into him. He started yelling abuse at me as if it were my fault that he wasn’t looking where he was going. I just looked at him pissed off at his abuse but said nothing. He left before I had the chance. He then went in the opposite direction ranting as he went. My husband who was walking behind me as we were reduced to single file yelled out to him that he had cut me off, but he was so busy ranting that he didn’t hear. My husband did manage to hear his mother telling him to be quiet.
I ended up quite rattled. I had been wary of and watching for young children darting in front of my scooter all night. My scooter stops quick and I have up until now always stopped in time. Its what kids do and in shopping centers and I have had several Mothers apologise to me and I always tell them, oh no, it is fine. I get it. They are small kids. Not a problem, I am watching for them. But this teenage boy towered over me, was many times more agile than I am on my scooter or off it. I found his abuse quite intimidating. When I am sitting down for any reasonable amount of time, it takes me a bit of effort to get up, much like you see with old people who suffer from stiffness. I was not in a position to let him have it as he deserved. All I managed was a dirty look before he darted off.
In my position sitting on a scooter, I felt quite unable to defend myself. I felt angry at this young man who felt it appropriate to abuse someone because of his mistake. I felt rattled and upset that I had run into him. I felt angry at myself for not putting this boy firmly but politely in his place. I felt grateful that my husband saw what happened and sought to defend me when I couldn’t. I felt disappointed that this young man was so self involved in his rant that he didn’t even hear my husband put him in his place.
I don’t expect special treatment for being disabled. I expect to be treated with polite respect, like any other human being. I feel as if he would not have yelled abuse had he zagged into my husband rather than me. My husband is not tall or bulky but he is male and able bodied. I could be wrong about that, but for whatever reason, this young man felt he had the right to abuse me.
I have heard many stories of those with invisible disabilities being abused when they park in a disabled parking space, despite the fact they have a disabled sticker on their windscreen. Fortunately this has not yet happened to me. As most of the time I don’t use my mobility scooter. It is something I reserve for outings that require a lot of walking. I only use my walking cane when I am having a particularly bad day, as I really hate using it. Sometimes I exaggerate my slower movements so it is obvious I am disabled when I see people looking because I have heard so many stories of abuse. I should not feel I have to. I shouldn’t do it. On a good day I can get out of my car quite well. It is walking back to the car that is the issue as I run out of steam very quickly. Maybe by exaggerating my movements I am contributing to the problem but for some reason I feel like I need to justify my use of a disabled space to others at times. Yeah I need to work on that.
I have a friend with a similar condition to mine but who experiences symptoms differently to me. She does not get the debilitating fatigue like I do. We had decided to buy a treadmill so I could do more walking in short spurts, which is not possible if I walk around our hilly neighbourhood. At that time I was also talking about obtaining my disabled sticker. She felt it her place to comment that she thought it strange that I was getting a treadmill so I could do more exercise as well as getting a disabled sticker, so I could park closer at shopping centers. I did not expect someone who had a similar condition, to not understand the differences between short distances to enable walking at a shopping center, and getting a treadmill so I could walk more often. Even this friend, who had health issues, found this perceived dichotomy as difficult to understand.
I get that from an outsiders perspective it can be difficult to imagine what life is like for others. What life is like for those with disabilities, or abilities different to your own. I remember a time when a work acquaintance of mine had commented that she couldn’t reach something because she was so heavily pregnant. She was quite clearly hoping that by dropping a not so subtle hint I might offer to help. I had at that point never been pregnant, and it didn’t even occur to me to offer. When I realised my mistake well after I had gotten home I felt quite terrible. I was embarrassed, so much so that I didn’t even bring it up when I next saw her again.
I have learnt a lot in the years since, especially since I have become disabled myself. I dare say because of my experiences that my children will likely be considerate in this regard. I have discussed the kindness of others since I got the mobility scooter quite a few times and made a point of how kind people had been. I guess in regard to the incident with the young teen, he has not had the same experience, but I would hope that parents had by now taught him that abusing people for accidents even if not caused by you is not OK. Clearly in this case if the message was given, it hadn’t yet been received. I see this as a major issue in our society. I see the inability of people to see past their own world as more than ignorance. It is also lack of empathy.
I have had to dodge with my mobility scooter, young adults a few times because they didn’t see me as their nose was in their phone as they were walking. Sometimes I wonder if running into them might teach them a small lesson, but perhaps not. Also probably not my place, or is it? Who else but those who have to experience this inconsiderate nature have the perfect opportunity to do so? Then again, I did not feel like I was in a position to do so at the park light displays.
By writing this article I hope I have contributed in my own small way to a bit of awareness of the lives of others. A bit of awareness that might perhaps bring a bit more empathy. A bit of awareness that we all experience life differently and some with more difficulty than others. Being kind is not a hardship, it is a pure delight. I always give those who offer me kindness, no matter how small a grateful thank you and huge smile. I don’t at all expect, but do appreciate the kindness. What bothers me is that I don’t experience near the same kindness when it is not obvious that I am disabled. It seems the visual aid is a trigger for kindness.This kindness I have noticed in shopping centers is almost always from the middle aged. Those who have lived longer, have it seems, more empathy. They don’t however seem to have what I see as normal politeness when my disability is not visible. I have noticed a marked difference between when I do or don’t have a mobility aid. I would like to see this empathy extend to everyone, not just the disabled or aged. A smile or polite or kind word can make someones day. I know they have made mine.
I was rattled by my experience tonight, but my hide is thick enough that I am not going to let it bother me. It has however coloured my perspective a little. Here’s hoping that my husband was mistaken, and that young man was put in his place by my husbands comments or perhaps his mother heard them and gave him what for. Ha! OK, no my glasses are not that rosy! Perhaps it is time for another shopping trip using my mobility scooter, (on a not too busy day!) to experience some more of humanities kindness. I could get used to that.