Mobility Aids and MS: Scooters

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You need a wheelchair, but do you have the strength or desire to push and maneuver a manual chair. What are the options? There are scooters and power chairs. Today I will talk about power operated vehicles (POV), also called scooters or carts.

Wheelchairs have been with us for a long time. Although there were experiments in England in 1916, electricity did not become a mainstay with wheelchairs until the 50s. In the 60s, a different electrical approach was tried.

Al Thieme had a relative with multiple sclerosis who needed a mobility aid. Instead of a standard electric wheelchair, he designed a friendly, easy to use, front-wheel drive model of a scooter. When he began selling the friendly wheelchair, called Amigo, in 1968, the mobility industry was changed. The scooter invented for one MSer gave birth to a new branch of mobility aids. Scooters were available for everyone.

As with many clever and useful inventions, other companies emerged to manufacture similar scooters. Now many different types and versions of scooters are available with different features and design adjustments for specific mobility needs. Scooters are available with three, four, or six wheels; computerized handlebars are placed directly in front or perhaps to the side of the seat; seat styles can raise and swivel, or not; and cushions vary from firm to soft including some specialized to prevent or treat pressure areas. Today's POVs have many different designs, features and prices to go with them. Why would you select a scooter as your mobility aid? You can set variable speeds, slow to fast -- mine says turtle to rabbit -- with many choices along the continuum. When transporting the scooter, it can be broken down and easily put into the trunk of a car, and the batteries are gel sealed so there is no problem. Scooters are less expensive than power chairs - usually $1300 - $2500.

There are some that look like scooters for very little money, but they are not sturdy, not made for disabled people. Be careful when you are shopping. When I finally admitted I needed a wheelchair, I knew it had to be a POV and I chose Amigo. To me it was similar to a golf cart, kind of cute and even fun. One day two young boys came to my door selling candy for their school, but they spent their time asking questions about my cart. Another time in a restaurant a little girl asked her dad "Why can't I have one of those?" It's not just children adults confide that they would much rather ride than walk though the mall.

Even though the scooter is attractive to all kinds of people, it is still a wheelchair. People with walking difficulty still hesitate to make the decision. Anyone considering a scooter can take advantage of those provided in most grocery stores and malls to see how easy they are to handle, how they ease fatigue, and how they return a level of mobility that MS once degraded. Most or all of the manufacturers bring them to your home for a test drive in your normal environment. Amy Gurowitz was also hesitant about using a scooter. She tells her story of making her debut riding her Pride Mobility GoGo Elite traveler scooter not just in public, but in a parade I asked about her experience since her first experience. "It really was a spectacular way to start my venture into this mobile existence. Though I have to admit, it's been an emotional effort every time I go to use it.. but once on... it's been pretty exciting. I went to the zoo with my daughter, her friend, and my husband... and I was ahead of everyone. That was a spectacular feeling when one is used to pulling up the rear. I'm down in Orlando speaking at a pharma convention and made the mistake of venturing outside when I was told I could find a restaurant close by- even noting that I had walking limitations. It didn't take long for me to really miss my scooter dearly."

It's funny that I called my early experiences with a scooter Independence Day and Amy called hers Dependence Day. Are they opposites? Opposed? They are actually the same experience. First we find we are dependent on a motorized vehicle for mobility. Then we find we have regained a level of independence.