Sunday, November 08, 2009

Shopmobility, part one

He walked over to me, limping, heavily dependent upon a cane. His hair was long, wild and looked like it hadn't made friendly with a comb for a very long time. His glasses were thick and dark rimmed. His manner was serious, very, very, serious. Our meeting was precipitated by a quick, almost rash, decision. We had just parked our car in a multistory lot in a disabled stall right by 'Shopmobility'.

We've seen signs for 'Shopmobility' for several years as we've travelled around the UK but had never stopped in. all we knew was that they let out scooters, for free, to people who wanted to use them to shop in various areas, mostly malls it seems, throughout the country. We had been told that the mall we were in was huge and so I asked Joe to check out to see if they had any large scooters available. They did. We went in and met a lovely young woman who explained to us a cumbersome sounding process of registering. It seemed a lot for us given that we only wanted to use one for a few hours to go shopping in the mall. She didn't want to disappoint us so she managed to figure a way to jigger the rules so that we could get a scooter.

The one thing she couldn't get around was my 'assessment' and 'driving test'. I was told that the assessment really was just making sure that I fit the chair and that the chair would suit my needs. After ten minutes of waiting, my guts churning - I do assessments, I don't get assessed - I almost told Joe that I'd really rather not. Then, across the parking lot came a wild mop of hair driving a scooter at top speed. 'This would be the assessor guy?' I asked and she nodded smiling.

His name was Steve. He didn't look like a Steve. But he was a Steve. He came over, sat down hard on a chair beside me, laid his cane across his knees and started to talk to me. Very little of what he had to say was about the scooter itself. After outlining the boundaries within which I was allowed to travel, he began to talk about what I would experience on the scooter itself.

'You will become invisible,' he said, 'you have to be prepared for people to no longer see you, no longer notice your movement, it's like you cease to exist.' He talked about the attitudes of those in stores, the reaction of patrons in restaurants, the annoyance of those on elevators. I listened, politely, and then assured him that I've been in a wheelchair for nearly four years and 'get' that people 'don't get it'.

He said that he realized that new users to the service were almost always traumatized the first time out in a scooter. 'Most of our customers do not have a permanent need for a scooter. Most are elderly, some simply can't walk long distances, few of them see themselves as disabled. Suddenly, on the scooter they experience a sudden loss of status. Some have come back crying, some angry, most are just confused as to why everything seemed so different.'

Turned out that Steve really cared about people who came into his Shopmobility center. He wanted to give them a little preparation for how those who stand react to those who sit. 'My job should just be getting people familiar with the scooter, but in fact, it's about getting them ready for something much, much, bigger.'

Little talk done, we went out for my driving test.

I passed.


Gary Miller said...

Never met the guy, but I like Steve already.

Hoping you did pass the test - although I'm sure you did.

Also hoping your shopping expedition with the scooter wasn't a bad experience...


Kristin said...

It sounds like they are lucky to have Steve in that position.

Laura said...

I recently discovered your site and I am slowly reading the posts. You write beautifully and I learn something in every story. Thank you. What is the meaning behind the Blod (black triangle) symbol? I have never seen it before and I am curious. Another silly question, if Steve did not suit his name, what name would have fit? I hope your shopping experience was a positive one.

tessa (the neighbour on a scooter) said...

Dave on a scooter! ohhh i want to see that.. Dave, get one! get one! Then we could race for real!

I am anxious to hear if peole were different than when you are in a wheel chair.

As always, thank you Dave, for the insights you share.

Andrea S. said...


There are probably others here who are more knowledgeable than I, including Dave. But, as I recall, the black triangle is from the Nazi holocaust. People with disabilities were the first victims. Nazi practiced how to kill Jewish people by first testing their mass extermination methods (such as the "showers") on people with disabilities.

Laura said...

Thank you Andrea for the explanation. I thought it looked like a Nazi triangle but did not recognize the word in the centre. Now I understand.

Dave Hingsburger said...


After much research I found a book that described concentration camp inmates with intellectual disabilities having to wear a black triangle with the word blot (German for dimwitted) printed in black on a white rectangle and then sewn over the black triangle.


CJ said...

Wow. It is wonderful that Steve was preparing people for the complete scooter experience.

CJ said...


Thank you for informing me about the black triangle.

I didn't know.

I would have been wearing the yellow star and you, the upside down pink triangle.

Louis de Pointe du Lac said...

My friends and I joke about how I've got a 'Romulan cloaking device' on my (large, rehab with tilt, oxygen, etc) powerchair.
I'm not that big (5'5" 130#), but my chair is 300# of you'd-think-it'd-be-hard-to-miss.
Yet people consistently walk straight into me, look past me, etc etc. Friends who haven't seen it, scoff until they observe it for themselves.

I've decided to find it amusing, to laugh at the people who manage to walk *smack into a huge chair in their path*, because I don't have the energy for another path on it.

It really was priceless watching one friend's reaction, though, as a teeny-bopper walking down the sidewalk was walking straight towards me, iPod earphones snugly in place, not seeing me wave my arms wildly to get her attention, calling out to her 'excuse me, miss - MISS...'
and then watching her land almost in my lap as she careened directly into me (there wasn't room for me to get out of the way, nor was I of a mind to under the circumstances.
There was room for her to get past me, but not room for me to clear her (center of the road) path.

IT was actually sadly hilarious.