Let me tell you about my scooter.
I have a foldable electric trike scooter slightly heavier than my toddler. It has no pedal option, just footrests.
It can’t reverse. It corners badly. It has a little nubbin that’s supposed to keep it from unfolding till I deliberately unfold it, but that usually doesn’t work. It has a top speed of “brisk jog”. If I ride it on a poorly maintained sidewalk it will punch me in the crotch with its bicycle seat till I’m numb. It can go roughly five or six miles on one full battery and doesn’t have a swappable battery pack. It has little enough torque that I sometimes have to kick it forward, even though it’s not designed for that, in order to get from a curbcut up onto a road if the road is arched highly enough and I don’t start with momentum; there are street-legal slopes it cannot climb. My cargo capacity is limited to what I can wear on my torso and fit in a small bike basket in front.
I love it to pieces and you’re going to see them popping up everywhere in the next couple of years.
See, I’m bad at walking. Not like, you know, really disabled. I can do two blocks without complaining, five if I have a reason, I could walk a mile if I had a great reason. It’d make me miserable and exhausted and my feet and ankles would hate me for the rest of the day and I might need to stop and rest four times in the second half, but, you know, I could. I’d spit fire if someone told me it was three blocks to where we were going and it was really seven whoops, but I’d get there, and I’d get home after, too, too tired to play with my child and in too much pain to stand up long enough to cook dinner, but hey! I wasn’t disabled or anything!
Factor in the fact that I cannot drive, standing is worse for my feet than walking, and I cannot maneuver in traffic, and you will understand why I am not solving this problem with a car, conventional scooter, or bicycle. Sometimes I took the bus, if I felt like standing in the sun for ten to fifteen minutes. But that was fine! I wasn’t disabled or anything!
I am the primary caretaker of a toddler. This toddler loves to go to the playground. It’s two blocks and change from home. I can walk that, but bringing a munchkin along I also have to stand for about as long as I walk so he can look at everything—unless I want to carry him, and he’s heavy, and then my arms complain as well as my feet. Maybe once every two weeks, we’d go to the park, and I would carefully monitor my energy levels once there, balancing rest for my feet and fatigue accumulated over the course of just sitting there, till we’d have to go home, so that I could make it all the way there even if the little one suddenly quit walking and demanded to be carried all the way home.
I have a trike now. I use it as a wheelchair. I can wear my kid in a baby carrier, get on it, be at the park in a couple of minutes, stay as long as he wants, go home if he’s done in fifteen minutes without feeling like it’s an awful waste, and have all the energy I would if I’d spent that time sitting in my chair at home, so when I get home I can make food or play with him or do chores. We can do this every day. He goes to the park about ten times as often now.
I have a trike now. I can, when someone else is around to watch the kid, make a low-volume grocery trip. I have signed up for parent-toddler swim lessons that I can now physically attend. I brought the trike on vacation with me to D.C. and I rode it for a little over a mile from Union Station to the Museum of Natural History because it was easier than figuring out a strange metro system and my spouse could rent a Bird to keep up. I didn’t ride it into the museum, because I was concerned about its battery life, and trying to walk the chairless halls of the Smithsonian wiped me out, leaving my spouse with most of the toddler-wrangling. This is now a problem I can actually solve. Next time I’ll bring my charger.
I’m being a little long-winded about this because I feel very strongly about it. I can now go places. In a very real way I feel more like a person compared to my prior status as an immobile sort of minor household god. Mobility turns out to be important in a way I would not have described it as being a couple of months ago. A couple of months ago I would have said I just didn’t like leaving the house. I would also have told you I was “bad at” traveling because it was so hard to wring any value out of all the far-flung tourist destinations—I’d go places, see fractions of them till I was too drained to look for anything but the next bench, wind up spending most of the time in my hotel.
I thought that I could walk if I really wanted to see things. I thought I just didn’t care enough. I thought that I just wanted to be home, anyway. I thought everyone’s feet hurt, except insofar as they walked enough to build up a tolerance for it, and that I’d simply never cared to build up a tolerance out of personal idiosyncratic preference. Because I thought I wasn’t disabled.
I don’t know how to express how non-obvious this was. I am not diagnosed with anything that ought to impair my ability to walk, besides being out of shape. It’s a lot of little subclinical things. My feet hurt. I overheat. I have a weird breathing ailment which can flare up when I’m stationary but sure doesn’t help if I’m moving. I have an unusually high incidence of Random Idiopathic Joint Fuckery (that’s a technical term). But with arch supports on a cold day if my lungs were behaving and my joints were all okay I could drag myself a few blocks! If I had a good reason! So I wasn’t -
My dad once told me a story about my grandmother, his mom, resisting the use of a wheelchair to accompany us on a family trip to an amusement park. She could walk, she said. Yeah, he said, but she couldn’t walk all around the park all day and have a good time. If the wheelchair would make it better for her, she should use it. She used it.
He never applied this philosophy to me, so I didn’t either, till one day on a whim I tried an Amigo motorized grocery cart during a Costco run, and a dozen invisible calculations evaporated, replaced with “how can I maneuver around the artichokes so as to avoid needing to make that awful backup beeping noise”. Did I need something down that aisle? I could go check for free. Did I want to get a closer look at something I wasn’t gonna buy? I could do that too and I wasn’t spending steps I’d need to cross the parking lot. Did my husband want me to carry the kid? This added no meaningful exertion. I’m sure it wouldn’t be an improvement if you value being able to sidle around people easily more than getting to sit down. But for me it was magical.
Every time I go any farther than the park on my trike, somebody tells me it’s cool. Somebody asks me where I got it, how much does it cost, what’s the brand name? People in conventional wheelchairs, and people who aren’t using any mobility aids at all just like I didn’t. A lot of people want these. They don’t know it yet, like I didn’t.
The price point’s dropping, the tech is here and iterating, and if you have the right kind of invisible disability, they’re life changing.
Want one? (ETA: Since this post was written, it has become clear that my scooter is poorly constructed Chinese crap. I bought an emergency backup scooter of the same model, because nothing else on the market meets my needs, and so far the two of them have never been out of the shop at the same time; I rode one to the bike shop with failing brakes, dropped it off, and rode out on my new one to finish my errands, immediately losing a hubcap in the parking lot. You should probably get the kind of scooter you stand up on if that would work for you, or a sturdier sort of nyoom if you don’t need the ability to fold it up real small for car trunks/buses/trains. That having been said, I still ride my poorly constructed Chinese crap all the time and value it enormously.)
Local post rule: Comments about my weight, physical condition, etc., will be nuked with extreme prejudice. If you’re Sincerely Concerned About My Level Of Activity please be advised that I am newly capable of traveling to the YMCA.