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Discriminating against the disabled in the supported housing sector…

Posted Feb 07 2011 9:06am

As some of you will know, I’ve lived in sheltered (which we now have to call supported!), accommodation since my early fifties. During that time I have had a series of powerchairs and scooters, which I have used perfectly safely, and without gouging lumps out of the building.

Now, though, some genius at Riverside ECHG (housing association), has decided that all scooters must be insured. This, somewhat modified, is my response to their request for feedback (yes, I know it’s a lazy way of generating a blog post – I’m still pretty sick).

As I pointed out – at considerable length – when I was seconded to the Mobility Scooter User Group last year, singling out scooter users like this is entirely improper and discriminatory, and forcing users to insure (when there is no legal requirement to do so, not even for road-going Class 3 machines**), is nothing but a surcharge on disability. Not least because the majority of responsible scooter users are being penalised for the actions of a careless few (if, indeed, they exist – I have seen lots of anecdotes, but no hard evidence at all).

**Which I personally think is wrong, but that’s an argument for another day.

I have been a scooter (and powerchair), user since 1992, and the amount of damage I have caused to any building in which I have lived is zero.

I do not believe that scooters cause the degree of damage being laid at their door. The simple fact is that scooter bodywork is plastic, and any collision with the structure of a building would cause far more damage to the scooter. Anybody with the brains god gave a dormouse must surely realise this.

Is, then, the Riverside supported housing estate littered with banged-up scooters as a result of their crashing into the walls and doorways? Has anybody actually thought to check, to compare damaged scooters to the damage they’re claimed to cause? How many guesses would you like?

I live on the ground floor, in my building and, along the corridor there is a considerable amount of damage that has been done to doors,** doorways and walls. Not by my scooter, but by the users of a powerchair, a manual wheelchair and a rollators. In the 14+ years I’ve been here, as a scooter and powerchair user I have caused no damage at all. Not least because I have respect, not just for the building, but for my own property – these things don’t come cheap.

**Much of this is now gone, as the doors have just been replaced  I did, however, have the foresight to take photographs. It’s fair to say, too, that the damage to the doors is unavoidable, given the disabilities of two of the culprits. I push the doors open with my foot when using my powerchair – they can’t do that – and this building has an insane number of fire-doors, which makes getting around for disabled people, especially on wheels, extremely difficult, especially as they slam shut like a rat-trap.

I didn’t insure my current scooter because there was no requirement to do so, and no need**. Nor, might I add, like many others, can I afford such an outlay on a fixed and soon to be diminishing income, as a result of the cuts – insuring a scooter can be as expensive as insuring a small car or motorcycle.

**My scooter is Class 3 and road legal. The biggest danger is being mown down by another road user (hey – happens to cyclists every day!), in which case insurance isn’t going to help me very much, is it?

With a new scooter insurance starts of relatively cheaply (sub-£100 in some cases), for the first year, but rises dramatically year on year (second year premium is double the first, third year double the second, in many cases). Not because of any perceived risk to others, but because scooter insurance is intended to cover things like breakdowns, theft and vandalism.

These figures are pretty average.

My scooter, by the way, along with my powerchair (the former purely for outdoor use, the latter for use within the building), is kept in my bedroom and this is achieved without knocking lumps out of doorways (or my machinery). It also means I pay for my own electricity to charge them (charging scooters or chairs from the common-area electrical supply is not acceptable, but it happens). You have a scooter, you pay your own bills.

There is, as I made clear in my review of these proposals last year, absolutely no greater fire risk attached to the charging of scooters than there is with any other electrical appliance. There is the same chance of my espresso machine blowing up, for example, as there is of my scooter catching fire, which is to say none whatsoever. One cannot legislate for stupidity, but there is no intrinsic hazard.

There is also the feeling, within Riverside, that what they coyly call “older people” are too stupid to operate scooters safely. It’s true that some people are like that (there’s one in my building who’s notorious for knocking over displays in shops), just as some car drivers really shouldn’t be on the road, but on the whole “older people” are no more intrinsically stupid than anyone else, not least the cretins who are trying to impose these new rules. True, people afflicted with any form of dementia shouldn’t have scooters, but that’s entirely different. Old people who are dumb tend to have always been that way.

My scooter , by the way, was selected primarily because it’s small enough to fit in my flat – it would also fit in the lift, if I lived on a higher floor – something that seems to be ignored by other people, for reasons that elude me. I mean, one guy, on the first floor, bought a huge Class 3 scooter which wouldn’t even fit in the lift – where the hell did he think he was going to keep it? In the event, it lived in the residents’ lounge, plugged into the common areas’ electrical supply, until it disappeared.

And, just a thought, but I do not track wet and mud into the building with my scooter. If it’s wet I don’t go out. If, for whatever reason, my tyres get muddy, I clean them before coming indoors – I always have.

The only time my scooter is used indoors is to leave or re-enter the building. Scooters are just not suitable for everyday use indoors – that’s what powerchairs are for (even the smallest scooter is handicapped by the need to go round often tight corners). If this is a problem then Riverside should address it directly, not by screwing with the rest of us!

The new rules say that proposed scooter users must be assessed. By whom? Given the complexity of, say, my own condition, I seriously doubt that Riverside has anyone medically competent enough to assess my needs, and I also doubt that I’m unique.

Using DLA as an indicator won’t work either, as many people will be excluded by age (can’t claim after 65), just as even more people are excluded because the system simply doesn’t work. Anyone who’s spent any time on this blog can see better than most just how difficult it’s becoming to legitimately claim DLA – and it’s not going to get any better.

And if Riverside tries to differentiate between a person who uses a scooter because it makes life easier, as they have problems walking, and an “officially” disabled person who uses one for the very same reason, I think they’re heading for trouble.

As I said at the outset, attempting to make scooter insurance compulsory, especially for those of us who are not causing any damage and never have, is hugely discriminatory unless you compel insurance for everybody who might conceivably cause any damage, ever.

We have the three examples above (rollator, powerchair and manual chair), but what of, say, milkmen who, from what I’ve seen, are not overly careful with their crates; or people with baby buggies – every bit as likely to gouge lumps from door frames as anyone else – as, indeed, are people delivering furniture, or removal people who, I know from experience, can be just a tad cavalier when it comes to negotiating doorways and corners. And the list is by no means exhaustive.

You simply cannot single out one group – scooter users – and say you must have insurance because we think you’re a risk factor, while blithely ignoring the many people who have the potential to inflict damage on a building, so please tell me – how do you know what’s caused by scooter users and what’s caused by others?

The fact is you can’t know unless the event is actually witnessed, but I have absolutely no doubt that the automatic assumption is “Bloody scooters again!” every time a new gouge is found in paintwork.

And that is the very essence of discrimination.

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