January 8, 2015

No Tow Trucks or CAA for Winter Wheelchair Drivers

While on my daily commute past Beal Secondary School, I was impressed to see two students assisting a gentleman in a wheel chair. The gentleman was on the road and unable to reach the side walk due to snow accumulation at the curb. The students were vigorously kicking snow away to clear a path so the gentleman could resume travel on the sidewalk and get off the road.

This reminded me that snow, ice and slush are hazards for anyone in a wheelchair, scooter or walker. When it snows, people with disabilities become cut off from regular activities like grocery shopping, walking the dog, attending appointments and completing household chores. Snow piled curbs and slushy bus stops can also make public transportation impossible.

Here are a couple of things to consider:

Wheelchairs need a smooth surface. People who use manual wheelchairs have a really hard time because they need arm power to get though the slippery mess. Manual wheelchairs can slide, making for an interesting adventure. Power chairs can easily hit a snow bank and get stuck. When a power chair gets stuck, it doesn’t budge, and you need a couple of people to get it out. People who use wheelchairs often are forced to take the street to reduce the chance of getting stuck. (See Minneapolis bloggers Sam Graves and Michael Sack (Two Men On: baseball, accessibility, Target Field, and more!), who explained exactly how “Snow and wheelchairs don’t get along.”)

Many wheelchairs are battery powered. The risk of becoming stranded increases when it takes longer for an individual to get around or when alternate routes and detours are required due to inaccessible areas. Also consider that batteries may lose their charge more quickly when the temperature plummets.

The motor on the wheel chair can die when slush or water is 3 to 4 inches deep.

Getting a wheel chair onto a sidewalk from an accessible vehicle can also be a challenge. Depending how the vehicle is designed, some accessible vehicles require access on the right side/passenger side of the car to get the wheel chair out. When sidewalks and curbs are covered with snow, this is impossible.

You can assist in the following ways:

Get to know your neighbours and find out if you can assist with clearing their laneway or sidewalk. Clearing the snow from their sidewalk and ramp eliminates the first barrier after a storm.

Volunteer to pick up groceries or walk the dog when conditions are poor.

Keep walkways and driveways free of snow, slush and ice. Consider that wheelchairs will need a path at last 32 to 36 inches wide path when clearing your sidewalk.

Avoid piling accumulated snow in accessible spaces and designated areas.

Clear slush away when temperatures warm.

If you live on a corner lot, take a moment to ensure that snow is removed from the curb of the cross walk area.

Those with paraplegia or quadriplegia will not feel the symptoms of frost bite. Find extra blankets to keep the individual warm if they are stranded and waiting for help.

Call for assistance if the wheel chair is struck or be ready to offer assistance to someone who is struggling -just like the Beal students.

The above image is a stock photo purchased from www.dreamstime.com