I was at a large shopping centre with my husband and his parents. Our son Kai was quite small, maybe less than a year old. It was becoming increasingly difficult for me to walk any distance at all, even with a walking stick, so I had started the habit of finding somewhere to sit and telling everyone I was happy to wait for them while they shopped. A short time later, my darling mother-in-law Annie returned driving one of the centre's courtesy mobility scooters. I was absolutely horrified and refused to get on it. It was far too embarrassing; what would people think? Thankfully, Annie can be persistently persuasive at times and so, after some tentative driving practice, I organised to meet up with everyone a short time later and found myself driving around the shopping centre, by myself, completely independent and free again. I was hooked and soon bought my own travel scooter.
As I got used to using this new tool, I noticed how others reacted to me. Some smiled, but a lot of people avoided eye contact with me altogether. A friend admitted that she felt awkward because she didn't know how she should behave or what she should be doing to help me while I was on the scooter. I quickly realised that, on the whole, people would take their cue from me. If I was embarrassed, they would feel embarrassed for me but if I treated the scooter like the tool that it was and largely ignored it, others would too. This approach has worked well for me and I encourage others to try it. Of course, there are times when you simply can't ignore me or the scooter, such as when I run into a display at the newsagent's or my reversing beeps seem to go on forever while I'm reversing out of a shop. At these times, apologies and a sense of humour work wonders.
From walking sticks and wheelie walkers to wheelchairs and scooters, mobility aids bring with them a whole host of stigmas and so it can be a very difficult and emotional process accepting that you need one. I am often stopped by strangers wanting to ask about my scooter and to tell me about themselves. I have heard numerous stories about spouses or other loved ones who could really benefit from a scooter but refuse to entertain the idea of using one, instead choosing to stay at home alone. Age and disease steal enough from a person without you allowing embarrassment to snatch your freedom and independence too. If I could reach out to these people I would dish out some tough love and tell them to stop wasting precious time worrying about what others think and get out there! Put a smile on your face and wait for it to be reflected back at you in the people you meet. The worst that can happen is a stony glare, and let's face it, you wouldn't want to know anyone sporting one of those anyway.