From Where I'm Sitting: Using a Scooter for Mobility

          I told myself once that I would never write an article with this utterly corny and clichéd title, but as it turns out it works. It’s functional. It does exactly what I need it to do.

I ride a scooter to get around. I’ve been riding a scooter for 13 years now. That’s half my life at this point and I have no intention of switching. I use a scooter because it works for me. It’s functional. It does exactly what I need it to do. Kind of like the title of this article.

            I first started riding a scooter when I was 13 and in the 8th grade.  Walking wasn’t too much trouble for me in elementary school. However, when I moved on to middle school, walking became a lot tougher as the hallways were much longer.  I held up in class just fine, but I would find myself winded by the time I got to class.  Afterschool activities also proved difficult— sometimes I was just too tired after a full day of walking.  So I got my first scooter and I would ride it from class to class.  In making the change, I saved myself a lot of unnecessary exhaustion.  It also allowed me to go out to the mall with my friends, go to the neighborhood pool, and walk the nature trails behind my house.  Perhaps even more importantly, it allowed to me to get in trouble and do stupid stuff— as would be expected of any boy in 8th grade. And trust me, when I say I did get into trouble and did do stupid stuff, I really did. You see, when I was in 8th grade, Jackass was at the height of its popularity and Johnny Knoxville was a god.

            In high school, not much changed, I began to walk a little less and needed the assistance of a custom-made leg brace, but the scooter was still right for me.  I would park the scooter in the classroom and then transfer into a regular seat. I did similarly when I’d go out with friends or family on the weekends. During my summers, I worked at a local country club as an assistant swim coach.  The first two summers I used public paratransit to get there.  I’m not sure how public paratransit is in your city, but I’m guessing it’s not too much better than what we have here in the D.C. Metro area.  Anyway, paratransit became too cantankerous. Fortunately, one of the other coaches and a number of lifeguards at the pool grew up and lived in my neighborhood. So I could carpool, my parents bought me another smaller scooter to leave at work.  I would go through the garage, walk outside, and hop in the car. When we got to work, whomever I carpooled with would get the small scooter from the guardhouse and help me stand up and pivot into it. 

            But the true value of this second scooter didn’t become apparent until I went away to college.  As it turned out, this smaller portable scooter could be easily taken apart and placed in the trunk of a compact car.  Because of the small scooter, I was able to go to the movies, house parties, and Taco Bell late at night with my friends.  By the end of the year, my closest friends became so good at taking the scooter apart and putting it in the trunk, we called ourselves a NASCAR team. I’m not entirely sure how receptive people would have been about packing up the scooter and putting me in the passenger seat in high school, but in college, no one ever thought anything of it.

            When I went to England to study at Oxford University my junior year of college, I took both scooters with me. At that point, I was walking quite a bit less.  I used the small scooter primarily in the dorm and around the St. Catherine’s College campus.  When I went in to town (or out clubbing) I took the bigger scooter.  The smaller one, without any kind of suspension, just wasn’t suited for cobblestones.

            So that’s pretty much it. The biography of my scooter.  I wrote it largely because I want to give my audience out there an idea of situations in which a scooter might be your best bet for mobility. Actually there’s a little left, but I want to frame this last part first.

            Over the course of the past 13 years I have been chided by all sorts of professionals for using a scooter. I am constantly reminded that a wheelchair is better for seating and posture and I ought to make the switch.  The problem with this kind of advice is that it just isn’t practical for me. 

          At this point, at 25, it really isn’t a concern for me any more, but my social life would have been a good deal less rich if it weren’t for my highly portable little scooter. I wouldn’t have been able to make it to anywhere near as many parties.  For me at least, an active social life trumped concerns about ergonomic support.

          The pressure has really been on me as of late to make the switch, but I am immovable.  I do not walk or stand anymore, but I still use a scooter. That is what is comfortable for me. Professionals find this infuriating as I am no longer “weight bearing”. True, but I hardly think that my being no longer “weight bearing,” makes a wheelchair the ideal choice for me. Why? I still move around a lot, reach for things, take books off of the shelf, and do most of my own transfers.   These things would prove significantly more difficult, if not impossible, in a wheelchair.  A few weeks ago at a state-run physical rehab center, I was strongly urged by the staff to consider a wheelchair. During the course of my time there, my scooter broke down. While waiting for the replacement parts to arrive, the rehab facility very graciously allowed me to use one of their wheelchairs.  Don’t get me wrong, this power chair was lovely. It was sturdy, had a great turning radius, and really sharp looking.  But it wasn’t right for me. As I still move around quite a bit, I felt rather confined. After a couple of days, I found the muscles in my arms, and legs, and sides tightening up. The therapists noticed.  Once I switched back to my scooter, the professionals finally came to the same conclusion that I had long before.  While I no longer walk or stand, I can still lean from side to side. I can still do my own transfers.   I still have a considerable amount of strength and flexibility in my arms and legs. At this point in time, if I wish to maintain this level of strength and independence, the scooter is still the best choice.  In time, I will need a power chair, but that time is not yet. 

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