Q. I recently returned from military service in the Middle East, but thanks to a roadside bomb, I ended up with several chronic conditions that affect everything from my hearing and balance to my ability to sit and walk. While I was undergoing rehab prior to discharge, we tried several different types of mobility devices, but I was unable to maneuver a manual wheelchair. I could operate an electric scooter with my right hand, but my living situation won’t accommodate any type of power wheelchair.
A few days ago a friend loaned me his Segway for a trial ride, and I think it might be the ideal means of mobility for me. Even with the power turned down, I could keep up with other pedestrians. Unfortunately, when I tried to use it for shopping in a local store, a security guard asked me to leave because he said it was dangerous. I didn’t see any reason for his concern, but I need to know if I would be able to use this device everywhere I need to go, and if not, where would my Segway and I be barred from entering? Is there any recourse for me if I am prevented from entering somewhere that I should actually be able to enter? AIso, is there a funding source for purchase of a Segway?
—Grounded in St. Louis
A. First, thank you for your service to this country. Segways are a viable mobility device for people with certain disabilities and should be safe to use in any environment where power wheelchairs are used. Their “footprint” is smaller than a wheelchair and it is legal to ride them on sidewalks. Some Segways have even been fitted with customized seating.
Guidance available from the Department of Justice includes Segways in a category known as Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices — along with all-terrain vehicles, golf carts and similar battery-powered devices. The Americans with Disabilities Act grants these devices the same rights of access as wheelchairs or scooters, with some minor exceptions. However, unlike those using other mobility devices due to a disability, Segway users may legally be denied access if they pose a safety hazard to other pedestrians or the environment they seek to enter. That denial must be based on a real risk and should be backed up with written warnings or regulations posted in advance of the attempt to use a Segway in that location.
Segway riders may be questioned as to whether their Segway use is due to a disability, but they cannot be asked any questions about their particular disability. It is legal to request a copy of some identification related to disability, so Segway users would be wise to carry this with them at all times. That disability connection is important — other Segway riders who are not disabled do not have the same rights of access.
If a Segway user is illegally denied entry, there are a couple of avenues of recourse. First, as with any violation of the ADA, you may file a complaint with the federal DOJ or with a state civil rights agency. Individuals can do that on their own, or they can file a discrimination lawsuit based on having been illegally denied access because of their disability. The latter would require using the judicial system, so an attorney would most likely be in order. Some lawyers may take on such a case pro bono, settling for a percentage of any future damage awards. There are also disability rights legal firms or projects located throughout the country, and they may be willing to provide legal representation at no cost. Contact information for those projects is available through the nearest Regional Disability Technical Assistance Center by calling the ADA National Network at 800/949-4232.
Those seeking government funding for a Segway will probably have to go through the same series of approvals they do to get funding for a standard wheelchair — a physician’s prescription with backup from specialists verifying medical necessity, including a detailed description of why the Segway is the preferred mobility device. As a veteran, you may be able to get some private funding support from the Segs4Vets program (see resources below). There may be other foundations or organizations that will provide similar support, so cast a wide net. Good luck in your search.
• U.S. DOJ ADA Update, A Primer For Small Business; www.ada.gov/regs2010/smallbusiness/smallbusprimer2010.htm#wheelchairs
• ADA National Network, 800/949-4232; www.adata.org
• Segs4Vets, 800/401-7940; www.segs4vets.org