Mobility scooter users get rough ride

21:43, Jun 16 2014
Corban Phillips
GETTING AROUND: Deputy Mayor Terry Sloan and councillor Jenny Andrews try out mobility scooters in Blenheim.

Despite a few falls off my bike and various surgeries I am still able to get around under my own steam and am very grateful for that.

However, I am aware of the growing number of older people in Marlborough who rely on a mobility scooter and with that the growing need to plan for their safety and comfort as they travel around town.

Much of our road planning is focused on cars and trucks moving as efficiently as possible from A to B. Cyclists and pedestrians get a bit of a look-in sometimes but mobility scooter riders are well down the list of priorities.

And for them it's not just a matter of getting from A to B. Being mobile is an important part of staying connected to their friends, doing their own shopping and keeping their independence.

I'm keen to see Marlborough adopt a more age-friendly approach to planning but it's not easy to get that message across to transport planners who are under 50 and have never had to wrangle a mobility scooter over uneven footpaths and up steep ramps.

It takes a change of mindset to understand what it is like to get around when the senses aren't quite so sharp, balance is not so good and reactions are a bit slower.


So it was good to see Terry Sloan, one of the younger district councillors, take up the challenge of riding a mobility scooter and feel for himself what it's like to tip to one side when the ramp off the road is too steep, or the crunch on the wrists when the gap between the footpath and the road is too high.

Terry is chairman of the committee responsible for roads and footpaths and was among the councillors listening to a man with a lot of experience in the subject - Sir Robin Campbell, a resident at a Springlands rest home, and a keen rider of his mobility scooter.

Sir Robin told the recent council Annual Plan hearing that his scooter is his lifeline.

And to live a bit longer it would be very helpful if the bevelled edges from the footpath to the road were painted a bright colour so he could easily see where to go down and where to aim for to go up.

Sir Robin was going to use his own can of spray paint to do the job but his family said he'd end up in prison, so he decided to take the more official approach and ask the council to do the painting.

He hadn't had any luck with the roading authority but seemed to get support around the table for what is a simple and cheap solution to a problem faced by many mobility scooter users.

And he also showed the value of planners and decision-makers listening and learning from the experience of older people, which is a key principle in age-friendly planning.

You don't have to look at the latest census figures to know that the Marlborough population has a high proportion of older people - we've known for decades that this was happening and there would be practical difficulties to be faced. Not only for transport, but also housing and health services.

These issues are connected, particularly if you are physically frail. One in three older people will have a fall this year, and for people over 80 it will be one in two.

A fall could be caused by failing eyesight, or not being able to judge distances as well as when we were younger.

Some of these falls will be in public places, tripped up by an uneven kerb, or a footpath cluttered with signage.

Good planning and maintenance can reduce the risk but there are glaring gaps in the system.

For instance, you can't get a state-funded glaucoma operation until you're practically blind and you'll only get one eye operated on out of the shrinking health budget.

The alternative might be a broken hip if failing eyesight prevents you from seeing that dip in the footpath and you take a tumble. Yet you will get your broken hip operated on immediately.

It is a domino effect that could be addressed with better planning around funding and a commitment to an age-friendly approach.

That approach involves old-fashioned communication methods like discussing issues face to face, sending out information printed on paper and having phone books with a typesize that people can read.

I argue with health planners that putting everything online is not the answer because there is a group of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s who do not have computers and they are also the group that needs health information.

These discussions about funding and services aren't easy because they involve Treasury, district health boards and roading authorities who don't normally have the bigger picture as part of their decision-making process.

Which is the beauty of submissions to the Annual Plan at the council.

Decision makers are hearing directly from their community and building up an understanding of how we live, and how we want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The Marlborough Express