For some time, mobility scooters have been exponentially increasing in prevalence in the general community. They have offered older people and people with mobility difficulties a relatively cost effective option which has been targeted predominantly at outdoor mobility.
Mobility scooter users will often be able to ambulate independently over shorter distances or use alternative forms of mobility equipment such as a walking stick, crutches or a wheeled walking aid. The powered mobility scooter therefore provides assistance with many community based activities such as accessing the local shopping area, or visiting a municipal space where longer distances generally need to be negotiated. Some users, however, find their mobility and seating needs are best addressed by mobility scooters in all situations and therefore also use these in the indoor environments they need to access and visit.
Mobility scooters by nature of the terrain and application they are designed for are however substantially larger than a powered or manual wheelchair and therefore also require significantly larger circulation spaces in order to be operated safely and independently.
The relevant Australian Standard that informs the Building Code of Australia with regard to circulation spaces within buildings, AS1428.1:2009 Design for access and mobility – General requirements for access – New building work, is based on research undertaken some time ago. This research did not include mobility scooters and as a consequence most buildings are not very accommodating to this form of mobility.
Research has been recently commissioned by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) regarding current wheelchair dimensions and to review the building feature dimensions currently contained in the relevant Australian Standard. The scope of the updated research again does not allow for the inclusion of mobility scooters. The difficulties currently encountered by mobility scooter users are therefore likely to continue well into the future.
The Australian Human Rights Commission recently published an advisory note on the use of mobility scooters in registered clubs. This note was instigated by an approach from the RSL & Services Clubs Association in response to issues arising from increased scooter use within their clubs. The note acknowledges the difficulties of accommodating scooters in the context of highly variable existing buildings but also provides some useful suggestions in managing the issue more effectively. Some of these include:
• Providing designated parking areas for scooters, preferably indoors and clear of pathways, exits and entries, and with clear signage designating their location
• Modifying or rearranging key areas likely to require additional circulation such as seating areas, ATMs, public telephones, etc.
• Providing designated and accessible recharging points
• Developing and displaying mobility maps directing people to the designated parking and charge points as well the most accessible paths within the building
• Providing intermittent seating through buildings for people only able to walk short distances
• Automating entry points and key doorways in the facility
• Developing an Action Plan (as defined under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992)) which considers organisational policies and programs as well as future modifications to improve access to people with disabilities
Even though the measures raised in the note are provided in the context of existing buildings, useful insights can be gained by building owners and designers in the planning and design of new buildings or new building parts. Given that designing to the Building Code of Australia will not necessarily provide a scooter friendly environment gaining advice from a suitably accredited Access Consultant is advisable.
Informal schemes have emerged where local public facilities and businesses can be listed as places where people are welcome to go and charge their device while in the community, with often large networks established. A more consistent approach across a broader range of buildings would however greatly contribute to the availability as well as the confidence of mobility scooter users in the community.