Able-bodied shoppers who hire special needs mobility services at a mall in Dubai are drawing the ire of mall visitors who say that electric-powered wheelchairs should be used only by those with special needs.
A company providing these devices at kiosks in different parking locations at Dubai Mall, has been renting out power wheelchairs by the hour. Recently, a group of physically fit shoppers were spotted cruising around the mall in these wheelchairs, drawing the attention of shoppers.
“If someone is tired or is an elderly [person], who says they cannot rent the power wheelchair?” Joy Orah said. “Our service is especially for people with mobility impairment, but it’s open for everyone. If a shopper is tired, has a sore leg, is pregnant or is visiting the mall for the first time and has to walk a long distance to find a shop, why should we stop them from renting it?”
Orah explained that they have launched the service to make sure mobility is not an issue at such a huge mall. “It’s a convenient way to get around the mall. We are trying to enhance people’s shopping experience, but we always give priority to people with disability.”
At the same time, “we don’t allow people below the age of 18 to rent them”, Orah explains. “But we also don’t want to limit it and say it’s only for people who are disabled. We have enough electric wheelchairs to accommodate everybody, and we also have manual wheelchairs, which the mall also provides for free. We have never run out of wheelchairs.”
Visitors, however, believe that the company should stick to its business philosophy and cater only to those with mobility impairment, as per their branding.
George Nackley, a Canadian father of a special needs child, said use of wheelchairs for amusement purposes is disrespectful towards people with special needs.
“I’m totally against it because if it becomes a trend and a popular way of transport among everyone, there will be no wheelchairs for the people who actually need them. Everybody will start renting them and, when the mall becomes crowded, they will start banging into people,” he said.
“It’s only a three-month-old service and there are people already at the mall using these chairs.” He said if people are too tired to walk in a mall, they shouldn’t be there.
Another parent of a special needs child concedes [these devices] would be a great facility for people with leg ache, weight issues or other health problems that hinder them from walking for too long, but these devices are not there to be taken advantage of.
“My concern is that it would become a gadget of convenience, moving away from its real purpose. It is designed for people with mobility impairment and [it’s not meant] for any other reason,” said Rebecca Corley from the UK.
“People should use alternative means to transport themselves comfortably around the mall, like golf carts or other devices, but not wheelchairs. The blame should be shared by people [wrongfully] renting it, not just the company,” he said.
Sam Al Jader, from Iraq, said it’s not only disrespectful but it also discourages people from walking. “People don’t walk in the UAE and diabetes is on the rise here. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”