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.