Sometimes we think that if we have made a facility or a sidewalk accessible, then we are done, but accessibility takes constant vigilance. For example, a bathroom might have an accessible stall or sink, but if people put a garbage can or a magazine rack in spaces that wheelchair users need, then the accessible bathroom is no longer accessible.
My friend, Liz Wagner, told me several stories this past week about snow and accessibility, and gave me permission to share her stories. She told me about a couple who had to walk single file on their way to a restaurant because that’s how wide the path had been shoveled on the sidewalk. Liz commented, “The lady is very hard of hearing. So, like me, she could not hear anything if she were in front, and not much more if she were walking behind her husband. And what about people who use wheelchairs? Do people think that wheel chairs have only one wheel, and they can get through this? I was wishing on everyone that had not cleared their curb cuts or shoveled their sidewalks that they would have to spend one day in a wheelchair so they would get a better understanding on how hard it is to get around when you do not shovel.”
Still thinking about snow, she wrote, “A young girl was riding a bus in her wheelchair. The bus pulled to a stop, and she could not get off, because the curb cut was not shoveled. The bus driver asked her if she would like to go to the next stop. She agreed, thinking this would work out better. He let her out at the next stop, and she headed back toward where she needed to go, but the curb cut at the corner was not shoveled. So she headed back the way she came to see if she could cross the road, but that curb cut was not shoveled there either. She was stuck until someone came along and helped her across.
“People do not realize how difficult it is for those in wheelchairs or on scooters to get to the store when sidewalks and curb cuts are not shoveled. No one should be made to walk on the road but many need to because no one cleared the walks and curb cuts by their houses and businesses.”
Even accessible sidewalks can create challenges for people because of weather conditions. One more story from Liz: “Today I was heading to the library. I saw someone ahead of me on the sidewalk who was hunched over and walking slowly. I went up to him and asked if I could help. He said he was trying to get to the mall which was another 4 blocks. It was so cold and the wind was so strong, and I really wanted to move fast, but I we walked together slowly. At one point, we held on to each other, because it felt like we could get blown away. We both made it to the mall, and I guess that was a good thing.”