When I first became severely affected with M.E. I was too ill to leave my bed, but after about 6 years I started to see some slight improvement and was able to sit upright again for short periods. I desperately wanted to be able to leave the prison that my house had become but knew the only way was going to be in a wheelchair. My GP was totally against the idea saying I would go “totally off my legs” if I used one, but in fairness I’d been virtually unable to walk for years at that stage and I was only using it for occasional trips outdoors, not permanently indoors, so I ignored her. I’d already had to fight my own mortified feelings at being pushed around by my parents at the age of 30, but never leaving the house again was worse, so I swallowed my pride and hired a wheelchair from Age Concern on the days I wanted to go out. It currently costs about £8 to hire a wheelchair, though this will differ depending where you live. You can get wheelchairs on the NHS and be assessed on a model that’s right for you, but it takes forever and they tend to be old-fashioned and really heavy. You can also buy wheelchairs online. We got one for my Mum last year off Amazon for under £100 and it’s great – small, lightweight, maneuverable, with breaks on the handles rather than on the wheels and at only 3kg perfect for putting in the boot of the car (click here to see the one we chose).
The reaction of the public to my being in a wheelchair was mixed, but on the whole people treated me like I was mentally retarded. They would talk about me to my Mum and she had to keep saying “Jak’s right here, you can talk to her” and it was priceless to see the shock on their faces when an intelligent, articulate young woman spoke back 😉
Over the next 4 years my improvement slowly continued and eventually I felt strong enough to use a mobility scooter. Being pushed around by someone else is really frustrating as you go where someone else wants to go and at their pace, plus I wanted to be able to pop to the shop on my own and wasn’t strong enough to mobilize my wheelchair alone. Mobility scooters can be stupidly expensive and I had no money, so I contacted my local Mobility Shop who sell second-hand models and arranged a monthly payment plan using my Disability Living Allowance (after all, that’s what it’s for!). I also contacted Social Services who arranged for a portable ramp to be added to my front door step and, living in a terraced house with no garden, I just had to keep my scooter in the hall. They need to be regularly charged, but the battery does come off so you could keep the scooter in a garage or shed and just charge the battery in the house.
I’ve had 2 different portable scooters, initially a 3 wheeler whose name escapes me and next a Pride Go Go Traveller 4 wheeler, both of which came apart to go in the boot of a car. Despite being labelled as “portable” if you’re thinking of getting a mobility scooter be aware they are all ridiculously heavy and often fiddly and difficult to pull apart and put back together. I really struggled to do this on my own and needed help to disassemble, lift into the boot and reassemble at the other end, kind’ve negating the whole point of it being portable! Having said all that, I loved (and still love) having a scooter. I could leave the house whenever I liked, go into (most) shops, get to the bank/cashpoint machine, the supermarket, the hairdresser, and zoom round town all under my own steam for the first time in years and it was *brilliant* 🙂
Joe Public treated me totally differently on my scooter than in my wheelchair. Because I was out alone it was obvious I wasn’t mentally deficient and other scooter users all waved to me or stopped for a chat, although it was weird being in my thirties when everyone else was old! There were some shops which weren’t accessible, so I’d just park up outside and walk in. This did, on occasion, give rise to some funny looks and negative comments about miraculous cures but you just have to ignore people’s ignorance and get on with your life.
The difference using a scooter made to my health was remarkable. Before, if I had to go out I’d use every ounce of energy I possessed just standing upright and walking 50 steps and would come home afterwards feeling like I was dying and spend the next 3 or 4 days in bed feeling so ill I wished I were dead, but I could travel for half an hour on my scooter and feel no negative effects whatsoever! I can’t begin to tell you the freedom that offered me and how fabulous it was to feel part of the world again 🙂
When I moved from the town to the countryside 13 years ago I faced new challenges in getting around. There were no nice pavements with dropped curbs, the roads were uneven and covered in cow muck and although there were some gorgeous public footpaths right next to my house there’s no way on earth my travel scooter could manage their rough terrain. When I got Bertie in 2011 and had to take him out every day of my life I realized that my little scooter wasn’t suitable for country living and I needed to bring out the big guns. So I bought a second hand all-terrain scooter, an 18 stone beast of a machine with an 8mph speed limit and, most importantly, all round suspension. I went for a Drive Sport Rider for no other reason than that’s the only 2nd hand scooter available in the mobility centre at the time, but the fact it is stylishly based on a Harley Davidson motorbike trike and doesn’t look like a scooter at all is an added bonus 😉
I don’t have a garage, but do have a 3 sided car port so I keep it in there. I concreted a post into the ground, and have it chained to that with a gold standard motorcycle chain for security. I also put a cover over it to keep off bird poo and moisture. Charging my scooter, however, was a problem because the batteries are massive and don’t lift off so you need to have a power point next to where you keep the machine. My car port doesn’t have electricity, so I had to buy a weather-proof extension cord which plugs into a powerpoint in my little shed and I tacked the cable to the side of the house until it reached the car port, housing the extension in a weather-proof box. The biggest downside of my “Harley” is that it is in no way portable so I can only use it around my home. If I wanted to take it further afield I’d need to buy a trailer with a ramp to tow behind my car – something I’d like but simply can’t afford (plus I have nowhere to store a trailer).
In summer I adore my scooter. It won’t go everywhere but I’ve taken it through fields, across streams and in forests and it zips up and down the rough roads in my village with ease. I’ve even put a dog carrier on the back, so that if I want to go on a busier road and don’t want Bertie walking beside me I can pop him in there and zoom along at top speed, letting him back out again when we get to our destination. The one thing I will say, though, about using a large scooter is that you do need some upper body/arm strength particularly if driving on very uneven ground, but if you’re just going to be tootling along on the road you can lean back, relax and let the wind blow in your hair.
I’m not going to lie, it’s not half as much fun using my scooter in the winter. Most scooters are not waterproof, a fact which astounds me, so although you can use them in wet weather you have to cover them, particularly the electrics. On a drizzly day putting a dustbin liner over the console will suffice, but when it’s pouring down you have to use either a rigid canopy (expensive) or a scooter cape. I use a cape, which is fine until Bertie does a poo and I need to get off to pick it up, when getting out from under the cape and then back under the cape again is a right palaver!
Despite the downsides, however, I wouldn’t want to be without my scooter and certainly couldn’t have had a dog without one as I live alone and have to take him out each day myself (I pay a dog walker to do the morning walk as I struggle with early mornings health-wise, but can’t afford her to do afternoons too). I also use it for my photography, driving off into the woods where I sit quietly with my long lens and wait for the wildlife to appear. If you’re thinking about getting a scooter don’t hesitate – it’s made the difference between being housebound and being mobile to me and I love mine 🙂
To finish, here’s a little bit of technical information about mobility scooters:
- You don’t need a licence to drive a mobility scooter.
- There are different classes of scooter:
Class 2: you can’t drive these on the road (except where there isn’t a pavement), they have a maximum speed of 4mph and you don’t need to register them.
Class 3: you can drive these on the road but you must be 14 years of age or over to use one. They have a maximum speed of 8mph on the road, but you should limit this to 4mph if driving on a pavement (they usually have a button to press for max and min speeds). You need to register Class 3 scooters with the DVLA but this is free. They are also more like motorbikes in as much as they have to have indicators, front and rear lights, horns and mirrors.
- Insurance is not a legal requirement for mobility scooters. However, I would strongly recommend it particularly if you have a Class 3 scooter which you plan on driving on the road. At the very least, personal liability insurance should be taken out by everyone with a scooter in case you accidentally injure another person while you’re using one (I once drove over someone’s foot in the supermarket!). In addition, breakdown cover for Class 3 scooters is also advisable – there’s no way I’d be able to push my 18 stone scooter home if it conked! I get both insurance and breakdown cover for £99 a year from Blue Badge Mobility Insurance.
- Mobility scooters should be serviced by a dealer once a year.
Full details on the rules governing scooters in the UK can be found here.