Dear Political Left: Enough With the Scooter Hate, Already

Every time there’s some political event where a bunch of people gather, some of those people are going to be using scooters (and wheelchairs! and canes! and walkers! etc.). And, invariably, people who disagree with the politics of that event are going to zero in on the scooter users, targeting them as objects of hatred and rage because, well, they’re there. And they’re convenient. From the political left, which prides itself on its ‘sensitivity’ and ‘respect for all people, even people it disagrees with,’ this is especially galling.

Thanks to the tea party in the United States, which is on the rise, there are plenty of events for people to pick from when it comes to selecting the ‘perfect’ scooter user to abuse. Here’s what I’ve learned about people who use scooters, from my fellow people on the political left: they’re old1 and/or fat, lazy, and stupid.

The scooter hate never seems to get old, and people never seem to think there’s any problem with it. It’s gotten to the point where when I’m on a liberal website and I see a picture of a scooter user, I scroll by really quickly so I don’t have to read the caption/commentary, because I already know what it’s going to say. There will be, say, a picture of an older person on a scooter, holding up a sign protesting government health care, and the caption will talk about how stupid and hypocritical the person is, sitting on a Medicare-funded scooter and bleating about government health care (I had no idea you could tell a scooter is funded by Medicare just by looking at it!).

I disagree with a lot of the politics on the right in this country. Vehemently. Just for example, the entrenched opposition to government-funded health care. But while I may disagree with the ideas being espoused by a particular political sign, I attack the sign, not the person holding it. I’m more interested in confronting and engaging with the ideas these people are promoting and I find it, well, interesting that many people on the left apparently aren’t interested in ideas, they’re interested in attacking people. It would be just as easy to challenge the assertions made on the sign without dehumanising the person holding it, but people seem to  have a hard time with this concept.

Now, the left is not alone in this. Scooter hatred is pretty universal. I’ve seen plenty of hateful stuff from the right, too, and I’m not giving the right a free pass here, but since I am a member of the left, I feel like it behooves me to talk about how people who share my politics need to clean house before I go storming over to the right to tell them what’s what. The fact that there are a myriad of left-slanting scooter hate pages on Facebook tells me we have a long way to go when it comes to confronting the deeply embedded ableism on the left.

There are a lot of examples of ableism on the left. Writing about liberal ableism, Annaham says:

For these liberals, everyone deserves respect and opportunity — so it follows that disabled people absolutely deserve to participate in society! Until, of course, accommodations for PWDs conflict with the desired pacing or focus of the liberals in question — or until the PWD no longer conforms to the “angelic” and/or “in need of uplift by the kind liberals” image. Yet often, these same liberals still insist that they can’t be ableist — they’re so progressive!

And, of course, there’s that very distinctive subset of liberal ableism, hipster ableism:

The most insidious thing, for me, about hipster ableism and other hipster -isms is that they are a thinly veiled way to continue being a prejudiced bigot. People can go right on thinking their prejudiced thoughts, and they can hide behind the shield of “humour” and “you just don’t get it” when they are challenged. Hipster ableism, far from being edgy and transgressive, is in fact very safe and affirming.

No indeed, the left is no stranger to bigotry and hatred shielded behind ‘jokes.’ People abuse scooter users in no uncertain terms, making it clear that they view them as subhuman, as worthless, despite the fact that, gasp, some people who use scooters? Are also members of the political left. And are perhaps not stoked at behind characterised the way scooter users routinely are by other members of the left.

This country prides itself on a premise of ‘lively political discussion,’ claiming that even people who disagree can have productive conversations about political issues and ideas. Dehumanising people is not my idea of ‘lively political discussion.’ In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. When all you have to say in response to political ideas you don’t like is ‘you are not a human being and you are disgusting and you should die,’ that pretty much tells me that you are incapable of engaging politically with people.

Here’s Bill Maher on scooter users, in a quote drawn to my attention by Lauredhel:

New rule: If horror zombies really want to scare me, they have to walk faster. I don’t even have to run from zombies. I can saunter, amble, stroll, promenade, stop for coffee at Peet’s. Zombies, you may be a disgusting, barely ambulatory member of the undead, but so is this guy-[slide of overweight man riding motorized scooter-chair]-and he can catch me.

Leftie favourite Wonkette:

Oh, ye Armies of the Night! Rise up … or, hell, just remain seated. Remain seated, ye lardbottoms, and also stick to daylight hours, so you don’t run into each other, on those ridiculous scooters paid for by Socialist Medicare.

Wonkette also publishes and makes fun of emails from users asking them to reconsider their hateful language on scooter users. This is just the tip of the iceberg, people. I’ve lost count of the number of sites I’ve stopped reading specifically because of the way they talk about scooter users, let alone the other countless examples of ableism strewn across their pages.

Seriously, stop with the scooter hatred already. I don’t know how else to say it. I could say it’s boring, trite, and overdone. I could point out that you are assaulting people in your own movement, people who share your politics and want to engage on the same level you do with the political system in your country. I could talk about how it makes it look like you can’t defend your political ideals, when you can’t even muster a response to opposing politics. Or I could just say that as soon as the scooter hate comes out, I tune out, because I know that you have nothing of interest to say to me.

  1. A nebulous concept that seems to shift across decades depending on who is speaking

9 Comments

  1. Thank you. Time for a piece in the Guardian and an American paper? Most scooter users have to pay for them themselves because of the strict guidelines with both Medicare/Medicaid and with insurance–you must be 100% bedridden to get a wheelchair or scooter funded, even though you may not be able to work/get to medical appointments/get necessary errands done otherwise. And few would go through embarrassment willingly, if they didn’t have to, of using one, because people are just mean, everywhere. People are much kinder, though not 100%, when I use my wheelchair than when I have to use my scooter.

    I got several of the Facebook groups shut down when I was on it, discussing hate crimes and discrimination against a minority group (some of them encouraged violence), but apparently they’ve proliferated again.

  2. That surprises me that you need to be 100% bedridden — my only information came from commercials, really, and I know that I keep seeing commercials showing people who are not bedridden but do have trouble walking long distances, and the commercial promises (with a bunch of fine print) that, if they approve you and Medicare doesn’t, then they’ll pay for the scooter. I would bet that a lot of people have seen those commercials and concluded that pretty much anyone who wants a scooter can get Medicare to pay for one.

  3. “overweight man”

    Would it be possible to rephrase this?

  4. It seems to me to be a nasty combination of ableism, classism, and fat hatred.

    It also baffles me that they can’t see that when there is a causal relationship with fat, it’s usually the other way around. When you have a condition severe enough to restrict your ability to walk around or even to use a manual chair with your legs or arms, you’re not going to get a lot of exercise. I’ve gained 50 pounds since I’ve been ‘bedridden’, and I know lots of people in the same boat.

    Not that this is more “right” than other forms of fat, but when people are always equating your disability and your fat (except backwards), it messes with your body image in interesting ways. Like, I don’t have the option of trying to go with the illusion that lots of exercise would make me thin, because exercise isn’t there. So then I feel guilty about everything I eat, even though I eat “better for you” food than most thin people. And eventually it just rips through you in really awful ways. I try to fight it, of course, but it’s a known fact that when people read something often enough, they begin to believe it’s true on some level, and if you read stuff about people like you that is messed up and distorted, then it works the same way.

    (sarcasm) But that’s okay. Ripping into a disabled fat person’s sense of self-worth is just fine. Because some people want to laugh, and so they have to find someone to laugh at, and hey might as well be me, and their ‘right’ to laugh trumps my attempts to battle self-loathing. (/sarcasm)

    Even more fun as a cognitively disabled person when the assorted hipster ableists start defending themselves by calling people who disgree with them ‘ret#rds’. (headdesk) This just gets worse and worse the more I look at it. Eucch.

    And of course if I were to object to any of this, they’d say I was in a wheelchair and not a scooter so they didn’t mean me. But of course they do mean me. At some point in time I could have gotten a scooter, back when I was using a manual chair and still had the stamina to sit up in the ways a scooter requires. I even had an old used scooter someone donated to me, but the battery was dead so I never used it. But if I had, I’d have been a fat person on a scooter. But the “we don’t mean you” crap is just moving the goalposts. It’s like when they say they don’t mean me when they say ret#rd even though they do mean me, because ret#rd isn’t a diagnosis, it’s a sociological term and it’s one that people apply to me whenever I go outside. And I really seriously doubt they’d fail to rip into a fat person in a powerchair the same way they rip into fat people in scooters. Plus, the “we don’t mean you” stuff makes it sound like people in scooters are in some different class to me, and they aren’t. They’re mostly disabled people too. The difference between them being able to hold all their body parts up for extended periods and me not being able to is negligible and I seriously doubt these hipster ableist types even give a crap about the distinction.

    Another thing that pisses me off is the disabled people siding with the scooter haters. That just smacks to me of either cowardice (“hurt other people so the bullies won’t hurt me”) or else those sorts of disabled people who maintain all their ableism except against people exactly like them. Both of those things piss me off.
    Amanda´s last blog post ..WTFery in the art room

  5. Good one. It’s always good to critique people you mostly agree with. I figure there’s more hope they’ll listen. Or, you’ll find out if they’re worth working with in the future?

    I’d like to see more about hipster ableism. Certainly more hipsters need to hear about it. Damn, I know some pretty hip disabled people. Sucks when “your own crowd” disses you.

  6. Hi PirateFaafy, sorry it took me so long to respond to this; that description is actually a direct quote from the Bill Maher transcript, as in, that entire section in blockquotes is all Bill Maher, not me.

  7. “overweight man”

    Would it be possible to rephrase this?

    PirateFaafy: I’m sure it would be, but you’d need to ask Bill Maher or his web designers/transcribers. That paragraph is a direct quote from his inaccessible transcription page, here.

  8. This was such a good and *necessary* post! I hate seeing the scooter jokes all the time. I think Amanda summed a lot of it up quite nicely.

    I now use a powerchair, but when I was less disabled, I used a scooter, and I am fat. I gained 60 pounds due to my disability, and there’s always the fear people will see you using a scooter or chair as “you use that because you’re fat” (and therefore, lazy and/or not really disabled).

    And how about all the movies, TV shows, and jokes where the scooter user (gasp!) stands up(!!) and walks(!!!), thereby proving that they are just fat, cheating, lazy fakers. I always have a complex if someone sees me put a foot down or get vertical at all who doesn’t know me, because of this ridiculous stereotype that using a chair or scooter must mean (as a neighbor said to me recently): “I thought you couldn’t leave the chair.” (Sarcastic response in my head: Yes, I sleep in it and go to the bathroom in the chair, too.) This happens with wheelchairs, too, but I find it’s a particularly “hip, pop culture” thing to do it as part of scooter hate.

    And yeah, I bought my used scooter out of pocket. As many have said, it was already hard to get power mobility covered by M’care, due to their “four walls” rule of medical need. (i.e., if you can get to the bathroom/bedroom/kitchen, but you can never leave your house, you don’t need assistive equip.) But now, with the legislative “crackdown,” it’s even harder.

    Yes, more on hipster ableism! It is so hard to argue with that and get the point across, cuz, you know, if you have anything serious to say, you’re “lame”! I know “lame” has already been discussed here a lot, but it seems to be a particularly popular word in the hipster vocabulary. And that kind of response, which Mahr epitomizes (too cool to care), seems to be part of the central problem.

  9. You know, I’ve had a really weird thing happen since I started using my scooter this summer. It seems like even more people smile and do the ‘aww how cute’ head tilt than I used to get. I mean, I’m a service dog partner, so I see a number of those every day, but it seems to have multiplied since I started using the scooter.

    My scooter is the only ‘inheritence’ that I’ll recieve from my grandmother, because there are a great many of us and it is my mother and her siblings who were named in the will, for what little my grandparents had. I’m the only one who had a real need for the scooter, so when I asked for it, no one objected. And with the recent damage to my knees, I would be in BIG trouble without it!

    ~Kali