Health

Fear of Disability Can Lead Us to Avoid and Exclude People

By Michelle Martin
Published August 05, 2013

Jean Vanier has written about the fear we have of people who have limitations and struggles that are evident when we encounter them, and how our need to feel like we ourselves are perfect (and so worthy of acceptance) informs how we deal with others.

It can't be denied that this is often at the back of our minds: "There but for the grace of God go I," we may say, letting the cashier at the LCBO debit an extra dollar from our account for United Way, throwing some change in the St. Vincent de Paul box at the back of the church, or bundling up our cast-off clothes and furniture to be collected in support of diabetes, or cerebral palsy.

This fear can lead us to avoid people, or worse, to exclude them. I've often wondered if this is behind the scooter jokes that keep cropping up, from the lowest kinds on the Only in Hamilton website, to the slightly more sophisticated types on, say, Hammer in the News.

People who use scooters to travel have reasons as unique as their own particular limitations for doing so. There are pros and cons to both power scooters and electric wheelchairs, and while an electric wheelchair may elicit more of our empathy because of our pre-existing biases (wheelchair = disability, scooter = lazy), the mobility device a person chooses to use is normally chosen in consultation with an occupational therapist who looks at someone's mobility needs when performing activities of daily living both indoors and out.

And we are all just one stroke, car accident, serious injury, major seizure, or neurological diagnosis away from needing a scooter or wheelchair ourselves, with chances increasing as we age.

Of course, some power scooter operators are heedless, just as there are heedless cyclists, drivers and yes, pedestrians. But most, like all of us, are just trying to get done what they need to do in a day, and get back home again safely.

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton where she and her husband are watching their 10 children fly the nest, one by one. She has been published in both the Hamilton Spectator and Raise the Hammer, as well as in the online edition of the National Post and, more recently, in the Canadian Urban Transit Association's Urban Mobility Forum. Michelle is coordinator of the Community Access to Transportation program. She is also on the writing/copy editing team of the Crown Point hub paper, The Point. However, the opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own. She sometimes tweets @deltawestmom

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By Terry Halloway (anonymous) | Posted August 05, 2013 at 20:39:42

I think, in Hamilton, people are a bit mystified by the sheer amount of scooters on the street. Almost everyone I've met that is new to the Hammer makes a comment on the amount of scooters.

Only in Hamilton is definitely out to harm, but Hammer in the News doesn't seem to vitriolic - there's always another issue they're trying to poke at - like the irony of McHattie being pro car, and Jackson talking about equity for other vehicles...

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted August 05, 2013 at 21:21:28

I'm fairly new to Hamilton (1 year last week), and am still mystified by the number of scooters on the sidewalks. Being a curious person, I have asked countless people a simple two-part question:"what's the chain of events that ends with someone using a scooter?" and "who is paying?" Given that scooters (and other devices like "walkers") are ubiquitous in Hamilton, this seemed like a entirely reasonable question.

To date, no one has been able to answer. No one. So I am left with the conclusion that this is a question no one dares to ask or answer, or no one has an answer.

From my observations day-in day-out, there are people in obvious need of a mobility device like a scooter, and others who are gaming the system.

What say you?

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By Denise (anonymous) | Posted August 07, 2013 at 09:37:54 in reply to Comment 90622

Hamilton is a magnet for people with disabilities because of the relatively low cost of rent and excellent health services available. How can people with scooters, possibly on ODSP, could afford to live downtown Oakville or Burlington?

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted August 07, 2013 at 20:14:08 in reply to Comment 90659

Yes - I grew up in Oakville and I can't afford to live there, myself.

ANd the other reason for what seems to be a higher than to be expected number of scooters (and other mobility devices) downtown could well be that the ODSP office is located at King West and McNab. Not to mention other government programs and services (health cards, passports...)

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted August 06, 2013 at 07:22:25 in reply to Comment 90622

For starters, downtown Hamilton has a city funded senior's building (First Place) at King and Wellington with around 500 units - so not surprising to see more mobility devices on the sidewalk there. For those who have obtained funding for a scooter, it would come through the Assistive Devices Program (provincial funding) which pays 75 percent of the cost of a mobility device once an OT has assessed need for one and signed off. Difficult to say how many people are gaming the system, I doubt it is the majority.

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By Jennifer Villamere (anonymous) | Posted August 05, 2013 at 22:08:59

Why provide more publicity (further to that provided by the Spec) for OIH? OIH is despicable. HTN is clever. Context and treatment is everything in content. If you can't discern the difference, you shouldn't be critiquing content. I invite you to re-evaluate HTN for the quality contained there-within. I'm confident you'll find what you seek.

As for scooters, just be glad you don't need one.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted August 06, 2013 at 07:24:06 in reply to Comment 90623

If you checked the link, you'll see I linked to the Spec article about the city employee who was dismissed for posting on OIH. Would never link to the OIH website.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2013-08-06 07:37:48

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By ThereIsNoGod (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 08:47:50

No, pretty sure I've never had your imaginary sky ghost in the back of mind at times like those.

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By Farley_Hammerton (registered) - website | Posted August 06, 2013 at 09:54:33

Yes! Slightly more sophisticated than OIH! Maybe some day I'll be classy enough to live in West Hamilton.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted August 06, 2013 at 19:39:20

Maybe someday I will be too!

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By Farley_Hammerton (registered) - website | Posted August 07, 2013 at 12:13:01 in reply to Comment 90652

Roommates!

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted August 07, 2013 at 20:10:57 in reply to Comment 90663

Nah-- no room for all my kids. But we could be neighbours, and when you are out of town I will make sure your grass is kept mowed -- on the diagonal, of course.

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By Farley Hammerton (anonymous) | Posted August 19, 2013 at 13:07:44 in reply to Comment 90668

;) Good call. We could share a Spec subscription and play volley ball over the fence.

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted August 07, 2013 at 10:54:51

I heard a rumor, from a reliable source, that one of the Liberal goverment's biggest sponsors is the owner of the scooter manufacturing company. Apparently the scooters are provided by one company only, it was sole sourced to them. Hard not to imagine that these scooters are 'over-prescribed'...

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted August 10, 2013 at 16:44:49

So while the article focuses on one issue, we must be clearly organizing against the push to merge OW and ODSP, which has already started.

Excluding people, this article has missed the point on many levels, that are not talked about.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 10, 2013 at 23:11:59 in reply to Comment 90771

Or maybe it's just not about what you want to talk about. That doesn't mean it's "missing the point" on any levels.

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