Mobility scooters are a common sight up and down the country
and they give many thousands of people a level of independence that was simply
not possible a few decades ago. But, when did they first appear on our streets
and pavements, and who is inventor that came up with the revolutionary idea?
Here’s our brief history of the mobility scooter.
Today if you hear about electric scooters it is probably
another news report talking about the rise of the two wheeled scooters that
many younger people are starting to use as cheap and quick urban transport.
However, the most common type of electric scooter is in fact the sit-down mobility scooter that is used primarily by
older people, and people suffering from mobility problems, to get about town
and enjoy some freedom.
How Did It Start?
In 1978, two men set up a company with the aim of developing
new mobility products. Ray Hodgkinson, now the Director-General of BHTA (the British Healthcare Trades
Association) and Martin Corby, who cut his teeth marketing
lightweight self-propelled wheelchairs, set up RayMar in 1978.
Today, around 80,000 mobility scooters are sold every year
in the UK, and it is estimated that the are as many as 350,000 mobility
scooters and powerchairs out on the British roads and pavements today. This is
a radical change considering that in 1978, they did not exist in the UK.
The Amigo Scooter
Ray first learned about the mobility scooter concept on a
meeting an occupational therapist at the Wolfson Centre in London, when she
told him about a new product from America.
The machine was the Amigo Scooter, which was a 3 wheeled electric
mobility scooter with tiller system and swivel seat. The concept has hardly
changed since that day, although the technology has lept forwards.
The Amigo Scooter was created by American inventor Al
Thieme, and Ray and Martin were so intrigued that they jumped on a plane to
America to learn more.
Al Thieme told the Raymar men about how his wife was
suffering from multiple sclerosis and he wanted to help improve her mobility.
The first prototype involved taking the motor from a Hoover vacuum cleaner to
drive a wheelchair, so was really more like a powerchair. But he soon saw the
need for a machine that could be sat on a driven more like a motorcycle than a
Mind you, the mobility scooter almost never came to the UK
at all, because Ray and Martin were not really sure it was something the
British people would want. However, they agreed to sell Amigo Scooters through
Raymar, and soon the first scooters were seen in the UK.
Ray told THIIS in an interview that for a few years Raymar
was the only company selling mobility scooters in the UK, and it was suddenly
in high demand, with scooters selling to adults and children with mobility
limitations cause by many medical conditions and spinal injuries.
No Stigma Attached
During the 1980s wheelchairs still had some stigma attached
to them, and this put off many people buying them. However, the mobility
scooter was seen as something very different, and this helped drive sales.
From day one Raymar focused on the freedom these scooters gave people, and to this day this is a major selling point. People, who in the past would have been housebound, now have the freedom to go to the shops, visit bars and restaurants, and even jet set off on holidays overseas.
Mobility Hits The Mainstream
Today, mobility shops can be found all over the UK and new
mobility shops are opening every month. Mobility scooters can be driven on the
roads (Class 3 are road legal scooters), although a majority of scooters sold
are Class 2 boot scooters, which today are primarily folding mobility scooters, although mobility
scooters that can be dismantled for easy transport are still very popular.
On a sunny day you can expect to see mobility scooters congregated
outside the local shops, along seaside promenades, as well as in supermarkets,
tourist attractions and parks. They symbolise freedom, progress and
independence, and are here to stay!