Powered Mobility Futures Dr Theresa Harada, University of Wollongong

Powered mobility options are critical for people with physical mobility needs to maintain good health, have social support, and maintain relationships. How powered mobility technologies help an increasing number of ageing Australians achieve these basic capabilities is illustrated in the sales of mobility scooters. Yet within urban planning where attention remains focused on the car, this mode of powered transport is largely invisible, often subsumed into plans within the category of ‘pedestrian’. How powered mobilities are incorporated into future transport plans raises important questions to ensure passenger safety for all modes of transport. One starting point to plan for more socially inclusive transport infrastructure is to help better understand the current barriers for powered mobility users. There is little statistical data about the number of power mobility users in Australia and less about the challenges they face as they navigate everyday terrains. This presentation will report on a scoping project that was carried out in Wollongong, NSW which employed semi-structured interviews, solicited diaries, ‘go-alongs’ and video-methods. This mixed qualitative method project allowed powered mobility users to discuss their ideas about powered mobility, driving skills and material elements including the weather, topography, surfaces and roads. These methods offered insights to their interactions with cycles, pedestrians and cars, the identification of problematic areas on their daily journeys and how powered mobility scooters helped them to achieve basic capabilities.  The findings from the project identified that mobility scooter users faced significant obstacles including infrastructural shortfalls, inter-modality barriers and social stigma. We identified that mobility scooter users are adept at circumnavigating many of these constraints but often put themselves at significant risk, therefore we suggest that more work is needed to understand how to incorporate this mode of powered mobility into everyday landscapes. The relative benefits of using mobility scooters included a sense of freedom and independence, social participation and improved autonomy. We propose to upscale this pilot work and generate a participant led interactive GIS mapping to better understand the everyday challenges of moving about with powered mobility technologies. The proposed project will be based in three different demographic areas: suburban Sydney, the country town of Ballina, and the small city of Wollongong to highlight geographic differences. The project will provide unique insights to the ideas, bodily skills and materials that may operate to either mobilise or constrain powered mobility use. The envisaged outcome is a site that can be updated and accessed by users. This practical data overcomes historic information gaps to enable universal design based on the user-generated empirical material that allows for inclusive design for all.