3 min Read

Snow and Accessibility

Once again this winter the Lower Mainland and much of B.C. find themselves under a healthy blanket of snow. For the Lower Mainland, however, a dump of snow can quickly become problematic and the region essentially shuts down. The weather quickly shows how independence is hampered not just by snow, but by a city’s inability to deal with it. Driving becomes treacherous, walking even more so. Uneven sidewalks appear evened out as snow settles hiding raised portions. Side streets become undrivable as the focus stays on the main arteries. Many people in the Lower Mainland lack proper snow clearing equipment or salt for sidewalks in front of their homes. When the snow comes, we often see people racing to stores only to have supplies quickly run out. Accessibility for everyone instantly becomes a huge problem.

So, if you think snow days are difficult for the general public to navigate, imagine what it’s like for people with disabilities and mobility issues. What should be a few days of fun, ultimately become days where DDA clients can’t comfortably go outside to enjoy nature’s splendor. Many of our clients have mobility issues and may require a wheelchair. Have you tried going out in a wheelchair on ice or hard-packed snow? It’s not an easy task. Even powered wheelchairs have a tough time in these conditions.

Unless our home support staff are behind the wheel, DDA clients don’t drive themselves around, so they rely on walking to get out and about. For people who are unsteady on their feet, or who use adaptive assistance like walkers or canes, the smallest patch of ice can become very dangerous. Snowy ridges that freeze into jagged obstacles become impassable. The only option is to stay in and make the best of it. Wait out the storm as they say. That’s not usually a huge problem for those in 24/7 assisted living, however, many of our clients are semi-independent. Getting things like groceries become an arduous task. It also means it’s more likely for people to be alone for long periods which can have a negative impact on mental health. The saving grace for isolation is the advent of the digital world where we can do the best we can to stay connected, but it’s not the same as being together.

City of Vancouver Policy – ‘Vancouver property owners and occupants are responsible for clearing snow and ice from the full width of sidewalks in front of and, if on a corner lot, alongside their property by 10 am the morning following a snowfall or freezing temperatures.’

Seems easy enough, but when snow falls continuously, keeping sidewalks clear, assuming you have a good snow shovel, becomes difficult. Snow in Vancouver is not without controversy.

There isn’t an easy answer to level this particular playing field. There is only so much we as a society can do in terms of prevention when the weather turns nasty. We can, however, continually raise awareness that there is an integral group of people in the disability community who cannot be overlooked when the winter season or any season for that matter rolls in. We can ensure that public policy around accessibility is loud and clear when it comes to snow and ice removal, especially when essential services are concerned. We can double our efforts to make sure our sidewalks are free from snow as much as possible. We can be respectful and patient if people need more time and space to get around. We can reach out to family and friends who are part of this vulnerable group and offer help should they need it.

If 2021 has taught us anything in B.C., from heat domes to winter snowstorms, it’s we need to pay close attention to our most vulnerable when extreme weather sets in.