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Why Segways deserve to be accommodated for the handicapped - One person's lack of compassion does not equal another's comfort.
One person's lack of comprehension does not equal another's consent.
Why Segways deserve to be accommodated for the handicapped
And I might amend that title to include the "Less Visibly" handicapped, as there are some people who behave as though those who can stand up or walk short distances are not in fact handicapped at all. Just ask the people whose cars have been vandalized by others claiming that they gained their handicapped tags under false pretenses, or as in this example, because the owner did not appear handicapped and the vandal failed to notice the tags. These are the sorts of stories I hear from handicapped people nearly every week. It appears my Segway has made me an unwilling ombudsman for them. They also tell of being verbally assaulted by people who make them justify their legal use of these spaces. If these same people had Segways, they could park further out in the parking lot as I do, and leave those handicapped spaces free for those with more serious handicaps. But I digress.

I was responding to a rather bizarre comment to a previous Segway related entry, when I realized that it would be more efficient to post this most educational information as a fresh entry and link it to my post, the Segway Compliance Record entry under the title of "Why Segways deserve to be accommodated for the handicapped". It also occurs to me that unlike the Compliance List, I might actually be willing to make this entry public.

The Original Question:
You asked How does a Segway better enable handicapped access? I will attempt to answer that question in the following breakdown of the issues.

A wheelchair is a device which by design is so handicapped it should really be called a handicap-ping device. This is one reason I feel so irritated when ignorant people claim one cannot use a Segway because it is not enough like a Wheel-Chair.

Standing vs Sitting:
Among those who do not suffer any sort of mobility limitation, it is commonly believed that standing is nearly as grueling as walking. This misconception is borne of personal experience with both standing and walking. What the non-handicapped fail to realize is that for many of us, the act of getting up and down off of a chair is actually HARDER on us than walking is, and that in many instances, especially when shopping, it is necessary to stand in order to get things from shelves, pay at registers, open doors, etc. I would equate the following three activities in terms of how many "Spoons" are consumed:
  1. Getting up and down out of a seated position to do anything three times
  2. Walking up and down four typical grocery store aisles
  3. Shopping in Target standing up on a Segway for two hours

The fact that for many years there have been devices to help elderly people get up out of seated position into a STANDING position so that they can WALK is plenty of proof that any device which requires a person to alternate between sitting and standing positions is itself not necessarily such an intelligent solution.

If you are not already familiar with The Spoon Theory, please open that link, (provided by butyoudontlooksick.com)

The thought that standing for two hours could equate walking down four aisles will not make sense to either an able bodied person who has never experienced a Segway. To a Normal Person, standing for two hours is unpleasant even if you are not handicapped. You see, riding a Segway is NOT the same as simply standing still. In the normal operation of a Segway, your joints actually move and flex just a bit. Cornering even slowly exerts more force on one leg than the other. All this "action" lubricates and nourishes those joints without the abrasion that walking (or climbing out of a seated position) will. There's even a certain amount of "exercise" involved. There is also really no "effort" involved in stepping off of a Segway and back on if you need to, and I rarely need to.

Come to think of it, it is probably also true that non-handicapped people would also find riding a Segway to be less unpleasant than standing for the same period of time, but the difference is that a non-handicapped person would more likely be just as happy to walk for that duration of time. You know, it wasn't THAT many years ago that on any outing I could Out Walk ALL of my friends. I got this way through illness, not laziness.

I would never set out to say that a Segway is the perfect mobility device for all handicapped people. I will only say that for those whose mobility limitations do not preclude the safe operation of a Segway, a Segway is most likely the better tool, and as such should be respected by those people who currently seek to treat it like an addictive controlled substance.

A Segway once outside not only offers better visibility and maneuverability than a "Wheel-Chair" and more like that of a pedestrian, but when it is not obstructed by cars or pedestrians, a Segway can be operated at speeds which may exceed stagnant downtown rush hour traffic (as can bicyclists). However, in pretty much all situations Segways remain slower than bicycles, which is one device you will rarely, if ever, see a handicapped person riding. If you want the handicapped to be truly EQUAL, you need to allow handicapped people who cannot use bicycles to at least use Segways. Taken literally, that would tend to mean that anyone with severe enough asthma to not be able to use a bicycle would qualify to use a Segway. To that, I say, "So what?" How would it hurt anyone if asthmatic people were permitted to use Segways instead of bicycles? People need to stop being so judgmental!

With their large wheels, Segways can literally roll over small obstructions that would stop most any other wheelchair or assistance scooter. With care, Segways can even ride down off of curbs without harm. Going up over curbs requires stepping off the Segway, but it does NOT require actually lifting it. A Segway can climb a curb by means of it's Power Assist feature. It is significantly LESS effort to take a Segway up a curb than it is to open a non automated door while riding a Wheelchair.

Segways offer the handicapped who can use them "better access" because Segways are more maneuverable, (they can turn on axis) and take up very little more space around them than a typical human. In fact, contrary to popular assumption, they are they exact width of a standard shopping cart, and about half the length.

Speed ignorance among those in authority:
Among those hassling me have been many who wrongly assumed that because it has the ability to exceed walking speed, that I normally do so. I don't, well, at least not indoors or in proximity to others. As you may have noticed in my letter to the GM of Montgomery Mall, I quoted the security guard explaining that the mall does not allow Running, or Skateboards or Segways, as though all three, by definition of their design, equate a dangerous speed. In his defense I will categorically stat that in my entire life I've only rarely seen skateboards operated at walking speeds. As as a rule I've never seen people "running" at walking speeds. No, that's not true, I have seen toddlers run at speeds which equated the walking speed of an adult.

As I mentioned earlier, most any bicycle, including common "kids bicycles", can outrun a Segway. Therefore it is insane to attempt to ban Segways and similar electric scooters from places bicycles are accepted, and yet the Free Spirit Alliance did that. Following FSG 2006 it was carefully explained to me that if the FSA (which runs FSG) were to allow either Electric Scooters or Segways, they'd be overrun by people who would insist on riding their Harleys in the same manner. Until FSG 2006 I never realized the IQ of FSG attendees was perceived to be quite so low by those running it.

Contrary to rumor, Segways are NOT actually the fastest among handicap variety scooters. In fact among scooters which have been expressly designed for be operated BOTH indoors and out, Segways are among the SLOWEST. Many 3 and 4 wheel scooters can reach speeds of 15mph (max), the legal limit for the class in most states. Some of these scooters that people mentally associate with handicaps can exceed 20mph and are permitted for use on roads in a class similar to golf carts. The Segway can only hit about 12mph (max) and even then in a mode I don't normally ride. Unlike bicycles or skateboards, a Segway can also ride comfortably at a speed slower than most people would care to walk and every speed in between.

Have you ever wondered how sit-down scooters allow their riders to open doors which are not handicapped accessible? In short, they don't. A person in a wheelchair or Sit Down variety scooter must either get the assistance of another person or they need to get off the scooter, open the door, chock the door, ride the scooter through, and then, if they are feeling generous, unchock the door behind them. It is an operation which, on a GOOD day I would not mind doing. However I have a Segway for my bad days, not my good ones. Whilst riding a Segway I can open non-automated doors without dismounting and without inconveniencing myself. I've even held doors open for more conventional handicap scooters while on it.

I've taken my Segway into more restrooms than I can count. I push open the door with my hand, take it into the handicap stall (or to the urinal), lean it against the first unobstructed wall, dismount, use the facilities, mount, turn around ride to the sink, dismount wash my hands, remount, pull open the bathroom door with my hand and leave. Nobody ever contests this! (if I have purchases which I've not paid for I leave them outside the bathroom and they always seem to be there when I return).

Have you ever noticed that restrooms with handicapped stalls NEVER have powered outer doors? I literally mean NEVER! How are people on wheelchairs or scooters who manage to get in, also supposed to get out? I've seen so many obvious cases of restrooms which totally failed to accommodate the handicapped I'd probably be reporting them by now if I were not preoccupied with getting Segways accepted.

Oh here's a good one. At the intersection in front of Loehmann's plaza on Randolph Road in Rockville there is a crosswalk. Where the button is placed on the poll, a person on ANY sort of wheelchair or scooter could NEVER press it without getting off the chair. My Segway was able to climb the curb to press the button without my dismounting it, but it was steep enough that if I'm ever there again I'm going to dismount to press the button. I bet that problem is more prevalent than you'd think. That's the sort of thing I'd be reporting if or when I ever get around to it.

Among they dumbest claims I've had to field is the claim that because conventional brakes, such as those used on bicycles and cars, would topple the Segway rider onto his or her face, that therefore Segways must not have brakes and as such they obviously cannot stop SO THEREFORE Segways are in the same class as skateboards. The logic at work there is very similar to the one that says that because girls don't have penises they obviously cannot pee. For reference just ask the average five year old boy.

Braking, particularly fast hard braking, requires practice, but it is part of the safe operation of a Segway. At the sort of speeds I operate my Segway indoors, hard braking is NEVER an issue. I have seen where people appeared to assume that my Segway was unable to stop or turn. Nowhere is this most evident than when people have walked up in front of me, screamed, and jumped out of what they thought was my way. Very often I was standing still when this happened! Fortunately more than half of these people realize their mistake and laugh at themselves afterwards. Those who cannot laugh at themselves tend to complain that the device does not belong. It is unfortunate that many people are still unfamiliar with how the Segway operates but that is bound to change as more people witness Segways being operated responsibly. To that end, YouTube videos of rich kids intentionally taking Segways beyond their limits, is probably the worst influence I can think of.

Safe Responsible Operation:
I suppose nobody ever had a reason to make a video of a Segway being operated intelligently. The majority of people who approach me about the Segway are not children, or even teens, but adults 45-81 on average. These figures have been pooled in my head as I've asked them. Some of those who inquire walk with canes, some walk slowly, while still others who are more like me walk fairly normally but complain that they have a limited range at which they need to stop. Some who inquire are currently riding mobility devices which they feel don't serve them adequately and they sincerely want to move up to a Segway. Most of the time when these people address me about the Segway, they are in a store such as Target, Home Depot, or a Grocery Store, and they see the Segway getting around better than they do. They don't ask me if I'm handicapped, they merely comment how the Segway would benefit them and though many of them have some debilitating problem such as knees or hips, they often choose not to consider themselves "handicapped" even if their doctor or the MVA would agree.

Nowhere however has the attention my Segway has received been greater that in the line at pharmacies. This is in part because I raise the seat on my Segway (called a SegSeat) whenever I'm in any sort of checkout aisle. It is not in fact very comfortable so I don't tend to use it for regular riding. It should come as no surprise that it is when I am at pharmacies that I encounter the highest number of people with some sort of health issue. Sometimes I'll be sitting there for several minutes before anyone gives it a second look to realize that it differs from a wheelchair in two different ways. First, when I'm sitting, I'm at eye level. Second, it has only two wheels. That second one is for the average person the major attention getter. Being at eye level is actually more important however, because as anyone who rides the typical scooter sitting down will tell you, pedestrians often treat anyone who is not at eye level as though they are not there. Actually you can also ask people under 5 foot tall and children. On the few occasions I've ever used the electric shopping carts in grocery stores, I've literally had people "Park" their shopping carts in front of me as though I were myself, somebody's abandoned shopping cart, as though I were not a person. When I've called their attention to this they sometimes express embarrassment, other times they seem completely oblivious as though I could not possible move under my own power, as though I were the child in the basket of his mother's shopping cart. Trust me, that only has to happen to you a couple of times to make you NEVER want to ride one of those machines again.

I've tried to be completely thorough in this explanation. If there is anything I've left out, please let me know so I can further update this entry.

Other articles of interest:
  1. This post features a video of a speech by Segway inventor, Dean Kamen, from 2002. In his speech at TED, he discusses some of the difficulties of getting the segway accepted. Other links in that post reveal efforts to make the Segway even more accessible to more severely handicapped riders.

  2. My Segway Compliance Record is a non-public entry which lists EVERY business I've ever taken my Segway into. The Segway Compliance record also compiles such statistics such as that, at the time of this entry, I've taken the Segway into 82 individual businesses including stores, office buildings, medical establishments, and outdoor festivals (including RenFaire and the Carlisle auto show).

    The record also tabulates such statistics as the percentage of acceptance. Despite the moronic ignorance displayed at some of these places, a whopping 85% of the businesses I've taken the Segway into have accepted it without asking me a single humiliating question. Another 11% did allow me to use the Segway, but only after asking me humiliating questions, sometimes repeatedly, on different days, by different employees. Unfortunately a remaining 4% of businesses, including COSTCO and Sam's Club, have essentially banned my Segway from access, although current activities will most likely have reduced that list of banned establishments within a couple of months if all goes as planned.

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6 Rubber Duckies or Leave a Rubber Ducky
lira_chan From: lira_chan Date: April 30th, 2008 04:55 am (UTC) (Link)
That was actually really informative and interesting to read. I don't really have anything constructive to say in response, but I'm glad I stopped to actually read through this instead of just deciding it was tl;dr and moving on. ^^
fixx From: fixx Date: April 30th, 2008 04:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Congratulations! You've just won a training lesson on my Segway!

If you like, you can collect this Thursday when MUMSFS meets in Rockville. :-)
lira_chan From: lira_chan Date: April 30th, 2008 05:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Training lesson! That actually sounds kind of cool. I'll have to talk to Dani (the girlfriend, yes?) and if she can make it, maybe we'll go to the MUMSFS meeting thing. Do you have a phone number we should reach you at? I think we need an address since I don't remember what restaurant you're meeting at.
fixx From: fixx Date: April 30th, 2008 07:18 am (UTC) (Link)
If Dani wants a lesson she can have one as well. It is very little more effort to train two people than it is to train one. In fact if we meet up in the parking lot and there are other MUMSFS folk present I'll probably train them as well.

I could have sworn you joined MUMSFS a couple months ago right after I met you. Perhaps I imagined it. My advice is that you JOIN by opening that link, and after I've authorized you, you can see where we are meeting this week by opening This Other Link

It is a good thing you did not assume we always meet in the same place as the last time I invited you... I think that was the Valentine's Day AYCE Sushi event in Gaithersburg.

One more thing though, and this is important. The post to which you and I are commenting under is PUBLIC, where as my MUMSFS events are not public. After you learn where the event is, please do not discuss its location under this entry as it may be read by anyone, and if you have not already picked it up from my journal I am plagued with at least two stalkers at this time, both of whom read what few public entries are made in my LJ.
lira_chan From: lira_chan Date: April 30th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I joined the comm, so I await your acceptance. ^^ And I didn't know about the two stalkers. D: I'll refrain from mentioning the location here. Hopefully Dani and I will be able to come.
fixx From: fixx Date: April 30th, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
You have been authorized. Although everything you need to know to properly navigate MUMSFS is spelled out on the information page via links and tags, for a novice it will be easiest if you use the link marked "This Other Link" in the post just two messages up.

If after reading that you feel adventurous, you may seek out the MUMSFS guide entries linked from the information page.
6 Rubber Duckies or Leave a Rubber Ducky