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Comments favoring allowing Segway use as mobility assistive devices for persons with disabilities

Excerpts Regarding the Use of EPMADs (Seqways) from public comment at Hearings on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Americans with Disabilities Act Titles II and III

ARROW View recorded Webinar with audio in wmv format presented by American Trails on the DOJ Rule on "Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices," Feb. 23, 2011

ARROW See QUESTIONS and ANSWERS on power-driven mobility devices

See aditional information and comments on the “power-driven mobility device" issue:

photo of people on boardwalk

Using a Segway inside a building


R. BRUCE DICKSON: Thank you. I'm also a practicing attorney here in Washington and I'm disabled. I can't walk. I initially used a wheelchair several years ago and then five years ago I began to use a Segway and today I address the question of whether public facilities should be required by the Department of Justice's rules to treat Segways as wheelchairs.

I think the law is crystal clear. It requires no less the alternative to require that a disabled person like myself use a wheelchair which is often the universal symbol of disability, rather than a Segway is itself to discriminate against that person in violation of the ADA. Section 3 of the ADA defines disability as either, one, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; two, a record of such impairment, or; three, being regarded as having such an impairment.

At the time that this bill passed, the House Report said Congress acknowledged that society has accumulated myths and fears about disability and diseases are as handicapping as the physical limitations that flow from actual impairment. That's why simply being regarded as having an impairment is itself a disability. For me, to be forced by a public authority to use a wheelchair either by mistake or because of an erroneous fear of the Segway is itself an unlawful discrimination. It's imperative that your regulations outlaw that sort of discrimination except where absolutely necessary.

To tell you, to tell you my concern, I would like to give you two examples that really demonstrate the point. Example number one, last year I took a group of five clients over to E. P. A. When I entered the E. P. A. building with my clients the E. P. A. guards stopped me and told me I could not enter the building with my Segway. Instead, I was told that I could borrow a wheelchair from a secretary who happened to need it, and I could be pushed up to the meeting on the eighth floor. They had to take the wheelchair back because the woman may need it in the course of the meeting, and then at the end of the meeting they brought the wheelchair back up and took me down from the meeting. That's because in the eyes of the guards, a Segway was a recreational device, and if I couldn't walk I had to use wheelchair -- no ifs, ands, or buts.

Example two: tomorrow I will be teaching a class in Philadelphia, and I had planned to actually, as an effort to get new clients for the legal area in which I practice, I had planned to take Amtrak to Philly tonight, but Amtrak has a new policy. I have been using my Segway on the Amtrak for the last five years but the new policy is that they do not allow the disabled to take a Segway on the train. Subsequently, they require that I use a wheelchair, not only getting to my meeting in Philadelphia, but obviously since I can't take a Segway with me, I will have to use a wheelchair throughout the meeting tomorrow.

I think it's grossly unfair to require that someone like myself use a wheelchair. And in fact, to me, what Amtrak is doing is forcing me to teach my course in a way that I will be regarded as having an impairment, one of the definitions of disability in the law, and that's because the regulations are not clear and I don't think the proposal is all that clear that a Segway used by the disabled should be treated as a wheelchair and should be allowed. It was the absence of a clear rule from Justice that enabled Amtrak and E. P. A. to force me into a wheelchair in order to use the facilities. And I think that is a discrimination.

As someone who once used a wheelchair, I can tell you how liberating it is to use a Segway. As an occupant of a wheelchair, the non-disabled very often looked at me or didn't even look at me, they looked away. They talked to other people -- very often not even addressing someone in a wheelchair. But in a Segway, people don't even notice the disability. People have -- are very interested in the Segway and in the device, and it's really up to you at Justice to make the rule clear. Don't allow authorities like Amtrak or E. P. A. or anyone else to force someone like me to essentially wear a “mobility impaired” sign around my neck, which ultimately would be the result of forcing me to use a wheelchair. And that fits within that third definition of disability under the law. Thank you.

FRED KAPLAN: I'm a gadget guy, and I bought a Segway when they first came out. About the same time, my daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Like many Americans, I never thought about Disability Rights then. Obviously by being here today, I do now. My daughter should be allowed to go to any Supermarket, shopping mall or any other public accommodation on a Segway, including amusement parks.

I met Eileen Wolf from the San Francisco area who also has multiple sclerosis. Before her Segway she was in a wheelchair. With her Segway, she was able to, as she says, walk her children to her neighborhood school for the very first time. She was able to visit the San Diego zoo on her Segway which she was able to use in a safe manner in an amusement park that she had never been to before. Even though it is built on a steep hillside, the slopes were not steeper than those that she encounters in San Francisco, none of which are too steep for a Segway to safely and in a fully controlled manner go either up or down.

Cindy Pickern was born without any sense of balance. She can only stand by holding onto something rigid. Through high school she used a mobility scooter. She had discovered the Segway's handlebars gave her enough rigidity that she could stand and travel for the very first time. She bought her first Segway as a student at U. C. Santa Barbara. Her health has improved due to the Segway, better muscle strength, circulation and she even feels her memory has improved. Her mother told me that on her Segway, it is the very first time in her life that strangers do not know that she is disabled. She asked me to ask you to never make her sit down.

Let me read a letter that I received from Susan Seizer. She writes, “I'm a college professor and a mother of two small children, and I have had multiple sclerosis for 15 years. In 2001, my walking deteriorated to the point I began using a wheelchair. Doing so affected my lower back negatively. We all know that too much sitting is bad for backs, and in 2005 a disk in my lumbar spine herniated making my life miserable and painful. The best thing for herniated disk all too ironically is not to sit. What was I to do? I knew that further sitting would make full recovery impossible but I was in a real bind. I cannot walk much at all due to the M. S.

I use a walker around the house but move very slowly and cannot walk far. I cannot sit long due to the disk herniation. Then I found the perfect solution. I tried a Segway and realized that I could use it as my main mobility aid. As I am able to stand for relatively long period of times, at work I regularly lecture standing at a podium but cannot walk effectively. The Segway is the perfect tool for me. It allows me to stay upright and maintain healthy posture for my back while making it possible for me to be mobile in a world of walking or working people. I currently travel from my home to my office and from there directly into the classroom where I teach, all on the Segway.

John Haney is another user of the Segway. His spinal injury has rendered him unable to sit without excruciating pain.

To conclude, I cannot help my daughter regarding prognosis of her multiple sclerosis, but I am here to make sure that, whether it is my child or anyone else's that has a qualified disability that can benefit from a Segway, your organization, the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, gives them rights similar to a person utilizing a wheelchair. Thank you so much.

ALAN MACCINI: Good afternoon, thank you for allowing me to give my comments today. On November 21st, 2004 a slip and fall left me with a severe spinal cord injury. The original prognosis was not good: An incomplete paraplegic with a side order of quada equina syndrome.

As my health improved, we looked for other options, my doctors and my physical therapists and myself, for my long term and long distance mobility. One of my physical therapists suggested I try a SEGWAY. He also had a patient, an M. S. patient, that was using a SEGWAY, and it proved very beneficial for the quality of life. In my case, it was going to take care of my biggest problem, long term sitting with a low level injury.

Sitting is my most painful position and to do it for any period of time requires large quantities of narcotic drugs. I pride myself for getting through most of my therapy with minimal drugs. The SEGWAY, as it turns out, pleases both myself and my doctors as it turned out to be a solution for the long term sitting.

I have had the opportunity of using my SEGWAY at many events, Superbowl 39, St. Patrick's Day in New York City, Newark international airport on a holiday weekend which may be one of the craziest places on the planet, and also at universal studios theme parks, not to mention going about my day to day life. All of this was possible by having the SEGWAY take over where my legs had failed. The biggest benefit for me and for many is the ability to remain upright for the time being. Sitting for any period of time, as I said, is painful. If we stay seated for too long, we are back on the drugs. So we look to avoid that at all costs.

Other benefits are it prevents atrophy, helps my muscle strength, it's very good with the secondary issues of spinal cord injury, bladder, bowel issues. It also fights off osteoporosis, not to mention, again, it keeps me on my feet. The longer I'm on my feet, the more chance there is that I will remain that way for awhile.

My doctors were thrilled with the outcome of my SEGWAY use. My quality of life improved dramatically. I function now with minimal medications, a little Motrin, things like that. My doctors feel that the lack of having to take these medications and to keep my body moving is going to lead to a longer, healthier life. They also feel that the SEGWAY for my condition is a regenerative tool as opposed to a degenerative one, again, based on my problem with long-term sitting.

I urge the Department of Justice to protect the rights of those that have no other choices, and there are really no other choices for someone that can stand but not walk any great distance. The use of the SEGWAY by people with qualifying disabilities must be protected under the ADA the same way a wheelchair is. I thank you all again for the opportunity to speak to you today. I don't want to take up too much of your time. I hope to visit the heart of our great democracy again soon and I hope to do it on my SEGWAY. May God keep you and all in good health. God bless America and thank you for your time.

JERRY KERR: (President, Disability Rights Advocates for Technology) Today we all face extraordinary challenges. We face extraordinary challenges affecting every aspect of our lives. We are all looking to new and emerging technologies as a pathway to solutions to these challenges. This rulemaking process will have a dramatic and lasting impact on every person in 24 countries for decades to come. Laws alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and clear as the American constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated, words spoken in 1963 by President Kennedy when addressing civil rights issues and relevant today as we address the challenges to rights of people with disabilities.

And because there are those who chafe at the requirement of writing equal rights and opportunities to disabled Americans, regulations must be easily interpreted so their intent is clear and sufficiently broad as to provide a timeless standard. This rulemaking is dealing with solutions to issues of access that have long been delayed because of concerns regarding the financial impact upon the business community. By adopting regulations that foster an environment benefiting the continued development of universally designed technology solutions we will make America more accessible to all people at a cost which is sustainable.

The Segway is representative of that which can be achieved in such an environment. Universal designs provide benefits to the society as a whole and integrates people with disabilities at the highest level possible. In 1991 when publishing the first ADA, Dick Thornburg made reference to the fact that there would be no exhaustive list of devices and services because any attempt to do so would eliminate the new devices that would become available with new and immerging technology. It is not in the public interest nor in the interest of people with disabilities and it is not consistent with federal law to favor a device designed solely for use by a mobility-impaired person. That is the medical model of disability that the rehabilitation act led us away from 35 years ago, not the social model we have embraced and expanded upon in this century.

The Segway has been subjected to an atmosphere of lies and innuendo reminiscent of the Salem witch trials and there are those who have bought into these -- and reacted similarly to a cave man first encountering fire. There is no, absolutely no evidence that the segway imposes additional risks over that of any other mobility device and the continued contemplation of the image of dangers has no basis in reality and cannot be supported by any scientific or engineering study in existence today.

The department must adopt definitions in keeping with existing federal law and favored policy benefiting people with disabilities and our society. The 1973 rehabilitation act defines an assistive technology device as any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized which is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. The proposed rules categorizing and defining assistive disability devices are fundamentally flawed. A device designed to be usable indoors and meeting the requirements of ADAAG this would include manual and power wheelchairs, scooters and EPAMD's, or a device with a designed purpose of outdoor use.

For more than five years thousands of disabled Americans who use Segways have been subjected to discrimination and prejudices. Our nation's heroes have been required to step down from their Segways and be pushed in wheelchairs by their wives. We ask the department to adopt regulations and policies which will put an end to this injustice. Thank you very much.

LEONARD TIMM: I'm a segway and wheelchair user on a daily basis. This NPRM contains statements about Segways also known as EPAMD's (Electronic Personal Assistive Mobility Device). My goal is to correct fallacies and show how functional definitions are superior to definitions that restrict innovation.

Speed is not a legitimate safety concern because a segway can be operated as slow as an individual can walk. Operating at speeds that are safe for a given environment is governed not by the device, but by the behavior of the individual. It is incorrect and unfair to compare maximum speeds to average speeds as the NPRM has done, comparing maximum speeds across the board would like this. The fastest humans can run like 25 miles per hour. The fastest electric wheelchairs have a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour. The fastest mobility scooters have maximum speed of 15 miles per hour, and I personally have exceeded 30 miles an hour in a manual wheelchair.

Size is mentioned as a problem. The footprint of the segway is smaller than wheelchairs and mobility devices. The NPRM states concerns about the safety of height of an individual using a segway. However, being at or about average height is far superior for visibility and safety than being only waist high while sitting in a wheelchair. Safety is a question of fact. The ADA already stated in Section 36. 208 when the individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, end quote, the individual may be denied benefits of accommodation. It is a fact that some physicians with mobility impairments use Segways while rendering patient care. Segways are being used at the physical therapy departments of the top military hospitals caring for wounded servicemen and women. This alone shows reasonable judgment that relies on current medical knowledge and/or the best objective evidence that the Segway is safe.

The language used in this NPRM is not written with the broad intent and spirit of the ADA. Remember, clarification and restriction are not synonymous. Don't repeat the mistakes of the past. The Access Board defining a common wheelchair having three or four wheels was not necessary. The majority of wheelchairs have five or six wheels. The definition might sound like this a device used to enhance mobility impaired person's locomotion. It must be able to fit in a space that is 30 by 48 inches, and the device and the individual must weigh no more than 600 pounds. Transit agencies only needed the device's maximum dimensions and weight to design a lift. The number of wheels or whether it had wheels was irrelevant. The NPRM states the fact that the device is not designed for use by or marketed primarily to individuals with disabilities, and used primarily by people with disabilities complicates the question of whether individuals with disabilities should be allowed to bring them in areas and facilities where other powered devices are not allowed. Now, repeat that statement by substituting the word dog for device. Many people with varying disabilities use dogs but the majority of dog are not owned or marketed to people with disabilities. Should dogs as service animals be dropped from protection simply because other people own dogs? Should all dogs be allowed into a vehicle?

The answer to both questions is no. It is the use of the dog as well as the use of the device that is the determining factor. The fact that other people use the device is totally irrelevant. The fact that a person with a mobility impairment is using a safe device as a -- using a safe device as their mobility device makes it protected under the ADA. Making erroneous rules that exclude people with disabilities from using devices and products that are not, quote, designed solely for them, is unfair and prejudicial. It stifles personal choice and innovation. It increases the cost of items for people with disabilities because now they must use specially designed devices instead of universally designed devices. This restriction is the antithesis of the concept of universal design. The ADA does not say that individuals must use F. D. A. approved devices to be fully protected from discrimination. I am sure if Congress had intended this restriction they would have stated so and the ADA would have authored it. I would like to thank you guys for having me here today. I would have said that up front, but I knew I would run out of time if I did.

JERRY KERR: My name is Jerry Kerr. I'm president of Disability Rights Advocates for Technology. Commonly most people associate our organization with the Segway and while we are associated with Segway in that we think it's a premium example of what can happen benefiting universally designed technology solutions for people, we also are quite concerned about the aging baby boomers population, those members of my generation who are quickly approaching the age of 65. Beginning in 2012 as many as 12,000 people a day will begin to reach the age of 65, an age where they will begin to have difficulty walking and other associated disabilities at an ever increasing rate and they are projected to live well into their 90s. This is going to create a huge population of people with disabilities that must be accommodated. As I have sat here today and listened to representatives of trade groups and businesses as a former businessman, I was astonished to listen to objections to preparing our businesses, preparing our places of public accommodation for this upcoming group of people who are going to need to be served, who are going to demand to be served.

We have just, and are still in a period where we have experienced one of the lowest rates of growth of our senior population, and that is about to change. And that's not a difficult thing to conclude if you look at what happened to the population of the United States during World War II and just in those periods during the war when our population was stagnant and sometimes in some years reduced then immediately thereafter we had the baby boomer population. We are in that 65-year period where we experience very stagnant population growth and our growth in senior citizens is predominantly a result of them living longer lives. Beginning in 2012 the baby boomer population will begin to turn age 65.

We will be experiencing explosive growth in the numbers of seniors who have been used to getting what they want when they want it, and businesses need to prepare to serve them, and so while I listen to people who say wheelchair spaces go unused, pool services go unused. Well, I assure you in a very short time they will not only go unused, they will be very similar to those of us who have disabilities that attempt to find a parking place for a handicapped person. They have all been taken up everywhere we look. So I encourage businesses across the country to take a renewed interest and a renewed look at what the ADAAG does. It will help them prepare our businesses to serve our senior population that is coming down the road. If we start doing it then, it will be too late. We need to start preparing now for those folks that are coming that will be experiencing disabilities in the upcoming years. Thank you very much.

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