Portly + Powerchair + Pedestrian = Panic

Ow. My head hurts.

And this is why.

Power chairs: older and fatter Americans are on the move – St. Petersburg Times:

“A man on a moped crashed into a man in an electric wheelchair the other night in the middle of Fourth Street. There on the front page of the paper was a police tape picture of one of those objects we see all over. The wheeled mobility industry calls it a power chair.

A what? A “power chair”? Wow, I’ve never heard of one of those before! Whatever could this “power chair” item be? What is it for? Should I be frightened? It’s something to do with teh fat, right? Cos there’s “fatter” up there in the headline.

They’re everywhere, it seems, dotting the downtown streetscape, a kind of ant trail from the condos to the Publix and back.

The temptation is to declare these are the new symbols of this city. Used to be folks sitting on green benches, God’s waiting room and whatnot, and now it’s folks sitting on … these.

Truth is, though, power chairs and mobility scooters are far from just a Florida phenomenon, and mishaps are not unusual.

WHAT? These … contraptions … are in places OTHER THAN FLORIDA too? SOMEbody really did just discover powered mobility devices for the first time. And they’re not happy.

[…] Electric mobility devices, or EMDs, are everywhere because of trends in geriatrics and bariatrics. Those are the portions of the health care industry that deal with old people and fat people.

This is America, getting bigger and older, fatter and grayer, rolling into the future.

[Snip prolooooooonged agonising – they’re not quite motorised vehicles, they’re not quite bipeds, what do we CALL them? How do we TREAT them? The sky is falling!]

They don’t need to be registered, after all, and they don’t have state plates. And what about the people in them? They don’t need a license. Does that make them pedestrians? They’re clearly not using their feet.

[More agonised whining. Did you know that now and again, old people drink alcohol? Shocking, I know.]

State law also says sidewalks are for pedestrians. No motors.


Reeeeally? Are you sure about that State law? Did you, say, look up what “pedestrian” means? Here’s a clue, from a the 2010 Florida Code, TITLE XXIII MOTOR VEHICLES, Chapter 316 STATE UNIFORM TRAFFIC CONTROL , 316.1995 “Driving upon sidewalk or bicycle path”, which I found with a 60-second Google search:

(1) Except as provided in s. 316.008 or s. 316.212(8), a person may not drive any vehicle other than by human power upon a bicycle path, sidewalk, or sidewalk area, except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway.

(2) A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation as provided in chapter 318.

(3) This section does not apply to motorized wheelchairs.

Section 3 is fairly recently clarified, but it’s clear from other law sites that motorized wheelchairs were considered pedestrians by custom before the clarification.

Now that that’s settled, back to the “older and fatter” article:

This is to say nothing of the fact that the manufacturers of EMDs say (even if they don’t really mean) that their products aren’t meant for outdoor use. Medicare, which last year paid out $547 million for power chairs, won’t pay for an EMD unless it’s specifically meant for indoor use.

Did somebody not quite bother to, oh, I don’t know, talk to an actual person with a disability? Somehow who, say, I don’t know, maybe…. uses a scooter or powerchair?

No, let’s just assume that the ridiculous requirements of subsidy schemes, which assume that PWD are confined to quarters at all times, must reflect reality. Crips, right, they oughtta stay indoors, y’see? Because others enabled folk will NOT KNOW HOW TO DEAL with their freaky wheelymobiles. AWOOOGA.

Newsflash, folks: We crips go outside. We go to the shops, to the library, to the doctor, to friends’ houses, to bars, to restaurants, to arts events, to work, to university, to our kids’ schools and friends’ houses and sporting matches. And some of us go on wheels. And – shock, horror – there are wheeled mobility devices made for our outdoor needs. There are even wheeled mobility devices made for rugged terrain and hiking trails.

Yes, there are also products designed mostly for indoor use (personally I wouldn’t want to deal with a three-wheeled scooter outdoors, not with our sidewalks, but YMMV.) Those are generally marked “For indoor use”. To differentiate them from, oh, I don’t know, the products that are designed for outdoor and indoor use.

Do you not believe me? Do you need some examples? Here are some just from my local vendor [they don’t pay me, I’m just a happy customer]:

The SHOPRIDER™ 889E represents prestige and class combined with unparalled stability and style, all at an economical price. The four 330 mm tyres provide added safety and comfort when utilised for any outdoor activity.

Traditional rear-wheel drive and compact design enable the FPC to easily manoeuvre and negotiate many obstacles both inside and outside the home.

The SHOPRIDER™ 778ER not only manoeuvres well indoors, it is also ideal for the open spaces provided outdoors.

The SHOPRIDER™ 778DXD allows you to travel in comfort and style to all the favourite outdoor activities you enjoy.

This St. Petersburg Times article, if the published product bears any resemblance whatever to what the journalist wrote, is just ignorant, unresearched twaddle. Not even poorly researched. Unresearched.

Moving on, the article hits the usual fat epipanic buttons:

[…] Meanwhile, two in every three Americans are overweight, one in every three is obese, and childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years.

‘We’re going to see more and more people riding around in scooters and wheelchairs,’ said Mike Moran, the executive editor of a leading home medical equipment trade publication, ‘because we’re going to see more and more old people who can’t walk and more and more heavy people who can’t walk.’

And there are no other categories of mobility device user. They are:

1. OLD;


2. FAT.

Do you know what words this article doesn’t use, not even once?




Their only mention of disability is to briefly mention that in the UK some people call motorised mobility devices “invalid carriages”.

And here’s the kick in the tail:

And last month, at a medical equipment trade show in Atlanta, Moran saw a product on its way to market that made him gasp.

‘Oh. My. God,’ he said. A power chair for a 600-pound person.”

I can’t help wondering if this quote is massaged or invented. Because Mike Moran‘s publication, HME News, carried an article back in 2003 with the following quote:

Bariatric bed frames and support surfaces are now being reinforced to handle up to 1,000-pound patients. “We have a lot of patients in the 600-pound range and 400-pound patients are very common,” one vendor said.

And in 2004, an article at his publication referred to a code for a powerchair with a capacity of up to 600 pounds:

EXX16-Bariatric, Captain’s Chair (patient weight capacity equal to or greater than 450 pounds up to and including 600 pounds) frame motorized/power wheelchair.

And alllllll the way back in 2002, they referred to an actual product, a powerchair with a weight capacity of up to 1000 pounds.

Mobility equipment is nothing new, fat people are nothing new, mobility equipment for fat people is nothing new (on account of if there are fat people, there will be fat people with disabilities), and I’m finding it incredibly hard to believe that this item is any sort of novel concept for someone running a medical equipment trade publication. I would find it much easier to believe that he is disgusted, because people are arseholes, but surprised? Nope.

Wonder if he knows they’re depicting him as a gormless twonk who doesn’t know his own business?

And d’ye know what the fart icing on the shit cake of this article is?

a person in a power chair crosses a pedestrian crossing on a tree lined street. our of focus cars are visible in the background, at a traffic light.

The caption on their image reads:

A man in a motorized wheelchair legally crosses Second Avenue S, just west of Fourth Street S in St. Petersburg.

Oh noes! A wheelchair user is legally crossing the street! Outdoors, in the room with the big blue ceiling! On a PEDESTRIAN CROSSING! Sie’s not even using hir FEET! How could this possibly be LEGAL?

[Cue internet cake-farting fetishists. They’d be more interesting than this contemptuous clueless claptrap.]

19 thoughts on “Portly + Powerchair + Pedestrian = Panic

  1. “The wheeled mobility industry.”

    something about that phrase or maybe the rest of the context makes me snort. Kruse makes it sound like there’s some kind of conspiracy or like there’s this big secret cabal of engineers and doctors conspiring to annoy him, personally. Yes, Kruse, they do it to make you mad. And for no other reason. No, no reason at all…

    The “The wheeled mobility industry.” “One of those objects.” What?

  2. Their only mention of disability is to briefly mention that in the UK some people call motorised mobility devices “invalid carriages”.

    And they got that wrong since I’ve not heard that term in years, and when I did it applied specifically to a type of car for disabled people rather than mobility scooters/motorised wheelchairs.

    But then, it’s the St Pete Times…so it’s not especially surprising they’d publish such scheißdreck…

  3. Remember, EMD rhymes with WMD. Clearly being fat or old (or disabled) is tantamount to being a terrorist.

  4. “And they got that wrong since I’ve not heard that term in years, and when I did it applied specifically to a type of car for disabled people rather than mobility scooters/motorised wheelchairs.”

    I’ve seen it used in UK media, AnjaKJ – some recent examples include this, this, this, and this.

    It’s also still a term in UK law:

    Three types of ‘invalid carriage’ are defined in ‘The Use of Invalid Carriages on Highways Regulations 1988’:

    Class 1 – manual wheelchair, i.e. self-propelled or attendant-propelled, not electrically powered;

    Class 2- powered wheelchairs and scooters, for footway use only with a maximum speed limit of 4 mph;

    Class 3- powered wheelchairs, and other outdoor powered vehicles, including scooters, for use on roads/highways with a maximum speed limit of 8 mph and facility to travel at 4 mph on footways.

  5. My head exploded right around the ‘EMDs aren’t meant to be used outdoors’ bit. I could probably come up with plenty of snarky comments about that, but they can pretty much be summed up as ‘Do you even think before you type?’

  6. Well clearly, this sterling journalist feels that in an ideal world, the “old” and “fat” would decently stay inside and not afflict him with their presence.

    It’s hard to know how to even begin reaching people like this. 🙁

  7. And people never consider that they might have their cause and effect a bit mixed up. The implication in articles like this seems to be that people are unable to walk because they’re overweight. Never the other way around– that someone might have gained weight because they’re unable to walk…

  8. codeman38, that doesn’t matter to me in the slightest. People who have difficulty walking because they’re overweight are people who deserve accessibility and acceptance as full fellow humans.

  9. I agree that any person who happens to ambulate in a seated position for whatever reason deserves accessibility and inclusion in society.

    But I think that people who both happen to be a wheelchair rider and also happen to be a person who is overweight do tend to get a double/triple dose of discrimination and negative attitudes.

    People who are overweight, whether or not they ride in a wheelchair, tend to confront assumptions from others that just about every single thing that is medically “wrong” with them must surely be solely and entirely to blame on their being (so the others believe) too “lazy” and “greedy” (with food) to have avoided becoming overweight and nothing to do with any other interacting factors such as genetics and environmental influences. Anything and everything that makes their body and their body’s functionality “different” in some fashion, other than the weight itself, gets blamed on the weight and on the “laziness” and other character flaws that others assume must surely have led to the weight gain in the first place. They place this blame on the weight even if the actual cause of the difficulty had nothing to do with weight and ignore other contributing factors even when clearly present.

    When people assume that an overweight person in a wheelchair must surely be using that powerchair out of sheer laziness (which they assume to lead both to being overweight and the “choice” to not walk) while failing to consider other explanations (such as an unrelated mobility impairment making it difficult to exercise and lose weight that way), this is part of an overall pattern of negative attitudes toward overweight people as much as it is of negative attitudes toward people with disabilities in general. People then use these assumptions to heap more negative attitudes, exclusion (lack of access) and even harassment of the overweight wheelchair rider. Dave Hingsburger (http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com, great blog) occasionally references the double dose of discrimination he sometimes experiences as a man who is both overweight and also a wheelchair rider. Some of his readers also comment on similar dynamics.

    I think that on occasion, blame of wheelchair use on weight can also be part of another broader pattern, which is an assumption on the part of some people that any disabled person must be faking it or only resorting to the use of mobility aids because they “lack the courage” or “lack the will power” to pursue more “independent” forms of mobility. Some people may then use this assumption to rationalize discrimination, including refusing to facilitate an accessible environment.

    I think that pointing out the erroneous assumptions that some people make about overweight people and people with disabilities (and about people who fall into both camps, as codeman38 does here) can be one part of the process of countering the use of these erroneous assumptions as the basis for rationalization of unfairness, or discrimination, or hostility, etc. Of course, as a long term strategy of ending exclusion, this does as a rule need to be done in conjunction with a more direct confrontation of discriminatory behaviors, negative attitudes, etc.

  10. “Dave Hingsburger (http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com, great blog) occasionally references the double dose of discrimination he sometimes experiences as a man who is both overweight and also a wheelchair rider. “

    Yes. I often reference the triple dose of discrimination I experience as a woman who is both fat and a scooter user, compounded by my also transgressing by mothering in public.

    I’m not sure how to read the rest of your comment, as it seems to be based in an assumption that I have no personal experience with the subject, and need it explained to me at length.

  11. codeman38, that doesn’t matter to me in the slightest. People who have difficulty walking because they’re overweight are people who deserve accessibility and acceptance as full fellow humans.

    Actually, I agree with that– but I don’t think the sort of people who write articles like this would, sadly. ::sigh::

  12. Wow, unresearched is right. How is it that someone was (I assume) paid actual money to squeeze out these braindroppings? And that a real newspaper considered them worthy of publication?

    I’m also marveling at the fact that the article writer apparently made it to adulthood without ever seeing someone in a powerchair before!

  13. As someone who has a mobility scooter in my garage, mainly used in the past for outdoor activities, I LOL’d all the way through this post. Thanks lauredhel for both the information AND the humor!!

  14. I have to wonder whether it ever occurs to people who write pieces like the one referenced in the OP that the fact that they’re seeing more powerchair/scooter users in public (regardless of the age/weight/appearance of the folks they’re seeing) is because *the more such devices become available, the more people who might not otherwise leave their homes at all can do so*. Personally if that is indeed the case, I think it’s pretty darn awesome.

  15. AnneC: Exactly! Sometimes – as is the case with this piece and pieces like it (Wonkette community, Bill Maher, I’m looking at you) – I get the impression that they really do understand that greater availability of mobility devices allows people who can’t walk well to get about in public a lot more: it’s just that the person is so hateful and selfish that they think this is a bad outcome which must be stopped by whatever lies and mockery are necessary.

  16. It is particularly amusing that the author shares a surname with the Hoveround inventor, Tom Kruse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoveround

    Round round get around, I get around… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFl137m-SkI (Older, mostly fatter people – OMG – in Hoveround motorized wheelchairs, doing choreographed dances on pavement platforms, complete with aerial shots of them spinning in place, all set to the Beach Boys’ song “I Get Around”)

  17. Lauredhel:

    My apologies for slipping into … what’s the equivalent here for “man’splaining”? I do not read this blog regularly and was unfamiliar with your background or I would have framed it differently. I also might not have been clear enough about the actual point I was trying to make. My comment was primarily meant to be a reaction to your Dec. 10 4 pm comment to codeman38: I was basically trying to present my opinion that although you’re very right to say people deserve access regardless, I didn’t think it was wrong for codeman38 to point out the way that people tend to assume that an overweight person in a wheelchair became overweight first (and ride a wheelchair because of it) when it might as easily (or more so?) be the other way around. I didn’t personally view codeman38’s comment as being an argument against supporting accessibility for all, just as a comment highlighting another aspect of stereotyping and negative attitudes toward overweight people in the original story. All the rest was not meant to be a lecture but was basically me trying to articulate the reasons I arrived at that opinion. My apologies that it came across different from how I meant it to in my head.

  18. Andrea: Thanks for the apology.

    What I’m trying to do is move away from this sort of 101 and towards a radical fat and disability acceptance model. To me, answering the equivalent of “You must be disabled because you’re fat” with “no, I’m fat because I’m disabled” has nothing to do with radical acceptance. It is buying into the exact same framing that the bigots are using: that someone must be to blame, that that blame must be allocated, that our bodies are for policing, that we need to go into a defensive stance and answer these allegations of blame every time they arise.

    Instead, my answer is to step outside of that framing, way outside, and say (a) it’s none of your business; and (b) it’s not relevant.

    Fat bodies and disabled bodies and fat disabled bodies should all be accepted and accommodated into public life, no questions asked, no causation dissected. I don’t need to answer random “Hey, why are you fat? Why are you disabled?” questions, and neither does anyone else.

    Do you see where I’m coming from now?

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