Getting around city streets after a heavy snowfall can be challenging for anyone – but for people who rely on wheelchairs, mobility scooters, or walkers, winter weather can mean no going out at all.
“We end up being confined to our homes,” said Zosia Ettenberg, executive director of Langley Pos-Abilities, a society dedicated to aiding people with disabilities.
Ettenberg uses a power wheelchair herself, and over the three weeks from Christmas to Jan. 10, she seldom left her Langley home.
Even with people to help her clear away snow from her own driveway and a vehicle equipped with a wheelchair ramp, Ettenberg knows that getting around on sidewalks and parking lots can be difficult after a snowstorm.
Both Langley City and Township require that businesses and homeowners shovel the snow from their sidewalks, but snow clearing remains patchy. Some stretches might be clear and salted, while others are a packed sheet of lumpy ice and snow.
It’s possible for people in wheelchairs or scooters to get completely stuck on ice and be unable to move. Other areas may simply be impassible, for example if the shovelled area is too narrow for a wheelchair.
Shopping centres are highly variable, Ettenberg noted.
Some do a good job, but at others, ramps onto sidewalks are not cleared of snow, or the snow plow drivers push the snow into the wheelchair parking spots.
“It depends where I go, if I can get out of my car,” Ettenberg noted.
The recent series of snowfalls, which started around Christmas has been one of the worst in recent years for mobility issues, Ettenberg said.
She said a few things are needed to make the situation better for people with mobility challenges when winter weather strikes.
“Awareness is very important,” Ettenberg said.
Property owners and people clearing snow need to be aware of how people need access to wheelchair parking and ramps.
The other side has to be enforcement, said Ettenberg.
“I think bylaws, fines, that would maybe help the owners of the malls,” she said.
Finally, she said it would be helpful if cities had a number to call for access issues related to snow and ice clearing, so problems could be solved without having to wait for the snow to melt.
Ettenberg is usually very independent, and a snow event can be very frustrating, because it means she has to depend on other people to clear snow and ice or help her out.