Things to consider as winter approaches
By Sarah Levis, Special to the Echo
Published Oct. 30, 2018
The cold weather is here, and the leaves are falling. There’s no dodging it anymore: Winter is on its way. As a woman left with physical disabilities after a stroke when I was 22, winter is a challenging time for me. I’m not especially bothered by the cold weather, but I don’t like snow and ice.
Let me say that again: I really don’t like snow and ice. Especially when either (or both) of them accumulate on sidewalks, on stairs, on wheelchair ramps, and in banks that I must step over to get from my ride to the sidewalk.
I understand that sometimes snow accumulates because it’s falling so fast and hard that there’s no point in trying to clear anything or make surfaces safe for walking until there’s a break in the onslaught. On those days, I don’t go out unless it’s necessary. If I must go out, I try to minimize my time outside so that I’m taking as few risks as possible on slippery surfaces. I’ve spent many winters in Haliburton. I know that on those days of constant, heavy snowfall, it’s almost impossible to keep surfaces clear. I’m very impressed by businesses and organizations that try to do so, and very grateful to them.
But if I have to complain to an establishment about snow or ice that’s obviously been accumulating for a couple of days or more on its steps or wheelchair ramp, especially if I have to do so repeatedly, rest assured that I’ll stop frequenting that establishment if at all possible. I’ll also let people know why I did so.
Here’s why: I won’t go where I’m clearly not welcome. An establishment can’t keep its stairs and ramps clear in winter whenever possible might as well have a sign posted on the door that tells me (and other physically disabled people) to go away. I will assume that if the people in charge truly cared about what I have to offer, they’d make sure that I can get into the building. Plenty of owner/administrators in Haliburton County do keep up nicely with snow and ice removal, so maybe I’ll look for another business that more obviously wants my money, another volunteer organization that more obviously appreciates my time and experience, or another community group that more obviously wants my input.
I know that no one intends to say, “Go away, disabled people.” But poor snow and ice removal sends the message that what I have to offer isn’t as good as what a non-disabled person does, and therefore not worth the effort it takes to keep entrances free of built-up ice and snow.
That used to make me a bit sad. But now, frankly, I’m over it. I know my worth, and if other people don’t, that’s their problem. But the short-sightedness puzzles me, particularly in the business realm.
My money is just as good as anyone’s, after all.
And this isn’t just about me.
I mean, it is in that I am a young(ish), moderately disabled person, and therefore not the “norm” in Haliburton. However, Haliburton has a high population of older adults compared to the rest of the province (according to Census 2016). As someone interested in accessibility issues, I sit on the County’s Aging Well Committee, a group of older adults trying to keep Haliburton County a place where seniors can live happily and healthily. Getting around safely in winter is a concern that most committee members share.
It’s also a concern for parents with kids in strollers, and people who for whatever reason are a little unsteady when walking, and people with no mobility issues at all who are just walking a bit too fast to get out of the cold.
Here are a few things to think about:
•A wheelchair ramp that’s got snow and ice built up on it is of no use to anyone. Better by far to block it off until the people in charge of the ramp can commit to keeping it in a condition where it’s safe for all people to use.
•When snow and ice enter the equation, anyone can fall. I was 19, pre-stroke, fairly healthy, and wearing quality winter boots when I took a bad step in a snowy city parking lot. I fell flat on my back and banged my head off the pavement. Luckily, I wasn’t seriously hurt.
•I’m not as militant as I sound. If I bring concerns about an accessibility issue to you and you demonstrate that you’re willing to listen to me and take me seriously, you’re aces in my books. If I see evidence of action based on our discussion, I will sing your praises all over. But having to come back over and over about the snow or ice on your stairs or ramp is annoying for both you and for me.
I don’t like doing these sorts of call-outs. But even 20 years after my stroke, I’m still a bit unsteady when I walk, even using my cane and especially in winter. And I know that there are many people in Haliburton County who are much less mobile than I am and wish that more people were saying these things.
So, I’ll keep saying them, as long as I must.
Just take care of your snow and ice so that people can get into your building.
It’s not that hard.