Mobility scooters can provide their users with independence and emotional well-being, with the choice to travel beyond their walking ability, but we need to plan for an increase in their use.

Mobility scooters are a popular mobility device for many people. They offer a simple and affordable mode of transportation for those who experience mobility challenges or have difficulty walking long distances.

These scooters are designed to be used on pedestrian footpaths, and they need the same accessible features mandated for wheelchair users, such as wide paths and kerb ramps at pedestrian crossings. However, mobility scooters are used by a different user group to electric wheelchairs or manual wheelchairs. They are generally used by people who want some independence in their lives, and who wish to maintain their own freedom to move around their community without being restricted by their own abilities.

In 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that 18.5 per cent of the population reported having some form of a disability, and 10.5 per cent of the population had some level of reduced mobility, with 2.5 per cent using a mobility aid.

Without the use a scooter, some people with a mobility impairment might be limited in what they can do and where they can go, resulting in a dependency on family and friends.

A 2012 recent report prepared by the ACCC and NRMA, titled Mobility scooter usage and safety survey report, found a number of benefits these devices provide the user. A key benefit is the ability to maintain independence for shopping, social activities, services and work.

For some users, their scooter will be their primary means of mobility outside the home, whilst for others their scooter might be a necessary aid to extend their travelling distance beyond that which they can comfortably walk.

The 2012 report identified typical scooter users, their triggers for scooter use, and benefits of their use. Not surprisingly, for 9 out of 10 scooter users, their ability to walk or reduced mobility was the key trigger to use a scooter. A stakeholder survey also found some interesting results:

  • 95 per cent of respondents expected to use their scooter for a long time
  • Two per cent were using it for a temporary period while recovering from an injury or surgery
  • 51 per cent of scooter users were actually under 60 years of age
  • Scooter users highly value the independence their scooter provides
  • Scooters do not generally replace a car

The key findings of the 2012 report were that mobility scooters are a “lifeline to independence and emotional well-being” and that “it is not uncommon for scooter users to see their scooter as a lifeline for independent living.”

Independent is, therefore, a key aspect of a person’s decision to use a scooter to get around. One can only assume that we will continue to see an increase in the use of mobility or electric scooters in the future.

The ACCC/NRMA research found that a surprisingly low proportion of people using scooters as a mobility aid are over 60 years of age. However, in future years, this might change. We know that people are living longer; life expectancy estimates are now the highest ever recorded in Australia. In fact, since the turn of this century, life expectancy has risen from 76.6 years to 80.3 years for men and from 82 years to 84.4 years for women.

With ageing comes disability, there’s no avoiding that. ABS data proves unequivocally that as we get older we acquire new disabilities to a point where:

  • 39.5 per cent of those people between 65 to 69 years reported a disability
  • 44.2 per cent for those aged between 70 to 74 reported a disability
  • this increased to 55.6 per cent for those aged 75 to 79

Now, back to the use of mobility scooters. Consider that our ageing population will result in the proportion of people aged over 65 doubling from 3.2 million in 2012 to 6.8 million by 2040. Consider too that these people will generally be moving toward retirement with healthy superannuation balances (compared to previous decades), with rapid advances in new medicine, and an expectation they will continue to live long, healthy, fulfilled and independent lives.

We know we’re going to see a large proportion of society over 65 years of age. One can assume, using ABS data, that we’ll see an increase in the proportion of people with activity limitations who will benefit from the use a mobility aid such as a scooter.

So, contemplate the following questions:

  1. Should we start planning for this now in buildings and public spaces?
  2. Should building designers and town planners consider best practice universal design principles and increase circulation spaces in public areas, provide scooter parking spaces, and recharging stations for electric scooters?
  3. Will it be good for business to provide better access for scooter users in the future?

In the interests of planning for the future, I hope you answered “yes” to all three.