Courtesy, Shop Entrance Ways and the Phone Zombie

15 July, 2016

Let me start by saying that I'm a big fan of people being courteous to one another.

Things that make my blood boil include drivers who slime their way down the left side of an obvious line-up of cars, only to force their way in when they approach a parked car that was visible before they changed lanes. Also, people who don't say thank you when someone else has obviously done them a favour. Considering other people, in advance of doing something that could potentially inconvenience them, is another thing I find sadly lacking in the community in which I circulate.

The last point is one that I can expand upon. In my daily jaunt from home down to Camberwell Junction, I often drive my motorised wheelchair past shop entrance ways. Some of these have windows either side to enable those exiting the shops to see who or what may be coming along the footpath outside. Others are simply blind exits, the most dangerous. These often have people stepping out onto the footpath without looking to see who may be walking, or in my case driving my wheelchair, directly past that space. I would like to think that the courteous person would look before they step out inadvertently in front of someone. Unfortunately, at least in Camberwell and other places I frequent, that is often not the case. People seem trapped in their own little world with little thought to the ways that they may be inconveniencing others. Through necessity, I find myself on constant alert for the "shop door steppers". As I stop short of these people, I am often met by an accusatory stare. It seems I'm to blame.

I thought that I could circumvent this problem by driving my wheelchair along roads whenever it seemed safe to do so. Prior to my accident, I had done a lot of cycling in and around Melbourne traffic. I'm fairly street-smart when it comes to all that. I figured that I could avoid shop door steppers and the inevitable bottlenecks wherever shops or cafes placed tables or stands on the footpath outside their establishments. In 2013, motoring alongside the parked cars on Burke Road to keep well clear of the right-hand traffic, someone opened their car door as I passed. I was left with a broken leg and a bent up wheelchair. Needless to say, I keep away from parked cars and only drive on quiet roads these days to avoid bumpy footpaths. One way or another, I was destined to have to deal with a lack of courtesy from other people.

My main gripe however, is with my travels along footpaths where, almost every day, I encounter "phone zombies". These are the ever increasing; mostly younger people (I am almost 50) who walk along with one arm raised holding their phone in front of their face. Apart from the obvious addiction issues, this behaviour shows an incredible lack of courtesy to those around them. While natural selection (cars, buses, trains and trams) may well deal to these people, other pedestrians and wheelchair users seem to be responsible for alerting phone zombies that a collision may be imminent. Some days, when I've had enough of such alerts, I find myself stopping and waiting to see whether a phone zombie walks right into me. If that happens, they usually blame me for not warning them that I was there. One fellow even told me to watch where I'm going, after he had stepped randomly sideways, directly into my path.

Headphones zombies are another category seriously in breach of common courtesy. Probably more prevalent than the common phone zombie, headphone zombies walk along public pathways seemingly oblivious to anything or anyone around them. Wanting to pass them on the footpath can prove a major problem. If they are fans of loud music, even my loudest "excuse me" goes without notice. Often they will jump in fright when I pull up alongside them on the grassy nature strip, then give me a nasty look to say, "why didn't you warn me?" Sometimes people tell me that I need a horn. I guess that "excuse me" must be too polite for these people and leaves me pondering the possibility of a loudspeaker that plays the shark attack music from "Jaws" as I approach. Actually, I do have a horn on my chair, but by the time I stop to press the button, those who it is intended to warn have already walked away and probably can't hear anyway if they are listening to headphones. Of course, combinations of the above can lead to the perfect storm. Phone zombies, wearing headphones, stepping out of shops or worse still, driving a car!

Situations such as these can lead to major carnage which I'll leave to your imagination. I don't know what can be done to alleviate all these hazards. Perhaps those of you with kids might discourage the use of mobile phones or headphones whilst walking in public. You may well save their life, preventing them from stepping in front of a fatal obstacle. At the very least, you will be teaching them how to be courteous when out in public.

Geoff Dossetor lives with a C4/5 spinal cord injury. Formerly a professional hang glider pilot, Geoff was injured in a freak accident in 2001. He lives in Melbourne where he volunteers as a mentor and is a member of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. He enjoys sport, movies, art, theatre and seeing family and friends.

Tags: Blog, Travel & Leisure, Health & Wellbeing