When the first snow arrives, people in wheelchairs know it will be a tough road ahead for them. Don’t get me wrong: most of them think snow is beautiful, but it is the evil part of snow that gets them all rattled up. People who drive cars have a hard time in snow, but most people don’t realize that snow is also a wheelchair user’s worst enemy. People in wheelchairs have a really hard time maneuvering through snow and often end up wondering if it is even worth going out.
Wheelchairs need a smooth surface. When it snows, and especially if people don’t shovel, wheelchairs can get stuck. 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.
Snowy sidewalks aren’t the only problem for wheelchair users. When snow accumulates, snow piles up at curb cuts making it impossible for wheelchair users to cross the street. Sometimes, there are several inches of snow blocking the curb cut. Manual chairs have a tougher time going over snowy curb cuts than power chairs.
Last winter, I went on a school field trip on a city bus and it turned out to be an interesting adventure. The city bus dropped us off across the street from the school. When I was trying to cross the street, I got stuck in a pile of snow that was blocking the curb cut – imagine that! My Special Education Assistant (SEA) and I tried pulling me out by ourselves; that was unsuccessful. Eventually, a good Samaritan came out of his house with a shovel to help get me unstuck. Minutes later, while heading to the school’s door, I got stuck in a snow bank. Well, my SEA tried pulling me out again; she was unsuccessful. Another good Samaritan came to our aid and kicked the snow away from my chair’s tires. I was stuck for about ten minutes that day. This is a prime example of what a wheelchair user goes through during winter.
The bottom line: Every city should be required to clear curb cuts after a snowfall and fine individuals who do not shovel their sidewalks. Wheelchair users deserve clear access to sidewalks and curb cuts so they can get to school, work, and other activities. But here is some advice: if you use a wheelchair, bring a friend along during winter trips, stay away from large snow piles, and carry a shovel!
Written by: Michael L. Sack