Accessibility should be considered when removing snow in Whitehorse, residents say

·4 min read
Darryl Tait says a lack of accessibility during the winter months is being happening for a long time in the territory.
Darryl Tait says a lack of accessibility during the winter months is being happening for a long time in the territory.

Over the past few weeks, the Yukon has received record-breaking amounts of snow. As of this week, there's about 60 centimetres on the ground.

That's making it's difficult to get around the streets — and it's even harder for people with mobility challenges.

Darryl Tait, a Whitehorse resident, says unplowed streets and sidewalks are a huge barrier for him as it becomes almost impossible for him to move from his car to his destination.

"Around here, when it does snow like this, you kind of just stay at home for a bit and wait for the city to catch up. Because you know that you're just not going to be able to go do anything," Tait said.

That means putting his life on pause. It's not fair, he noted, but it's just the reality of the situation.

Submitted by Doug MacLean
Submitted by Doug MacLean

Tait, who is an education assistant, explained it's even more frustrating when those who are plowing the streets dump the snow on accessible parking spots.

"For whatever reason, people have it in their heads when they're clearing the snow, they're like, 'Oh, let's just put it in the accessible parking spot. Nobody uses it anyway. We'll just put it out there temporarily.' But it's just an assumption," he said.

Tait recalled multiple encounters where he has had to park in a regular spot because the accessible one was covered in piles of snow. This, in return, presents a high risk of getting boxed between other vehicles, making it impossible for him to get in and out of the car with his wheelchair.

"I've come to situations where I've come back to my truck and I'm boxed in and I can't leave and I got to wait for the person to come back or I have actually had to ask strangers to back my vehicle out so that I could get back in," Tait said.

He said there needs to be better education in Whitehorse around snow removal and it's impact on people and accessibility.

Seniors also want more accessibility

Seniors in Whitehorse are also pushing for accessibility to be at the top of mind for community members and city officials.

The Yukon Council on Aging usually gets over 100 calls every year for snow removal assistance. With the recent weather, these types of calls are increasing, said president Doug MacLean.

"We've been getting more calls from seniors asking for help with snow shovelling because it is sometimes just a bit too much for them, depending on their age, of course ... Sidewalks are a bit of a hindrance, especially if they're walking with a walker or a cane," MacLean said.

Mike Rudyk/CBC
Mike Rudyk/CBC

Richard Graham, Whitehorse's manager of fleet and transportation maintenance, said the city is making slow progress moving the snow.

The city has a four-tier priority list to plow snow around town. Graham confirmed they are still working on Priority 1 and 2 which means people living on side streets might have to wait a while longer.

"I'm quite empathetic toward the city because there comes a point where almost every single snowplow and dump truck that's available is out there working at night. And I certainly wouldn't want to criticize them for doing something that really in some ways is beyond the call of duty," said MacLean.

Community filling in for city's shortcomings

MacLean added people have been stepping up to help around his neighbourhood.

"There are a couple of or maybe three of our neighbours who do have snow blowers of various descriptions, and we have woken up to find that our front sidewalk has been done. And I think this would be a good opportunity to thank those people for helping us so much; especially when the city obviously is finding it very difficult to keep up," he said.

The city is currently working on its official community plan, and seniors groups hope Whitehorse makes changes that reflect the aging population.

They say the city needs to consider safety issues, as too much snow presents a higher risk of falling and getting hurt.

Deborah McNevin is a co-ordinator at the volunteer-based organization, Seniors Action Yukon.

She says the city's current plan for snow removal doesn't consider the needs of people with mobility challenges.

"It's one thing to clear snow for cars, it's another thing to make sure that that clearance doesn't impede people's ability to walk or get to where they are going safely," McNevin said.

Beyond winter

Ramesh Ferris, a long-time accessibility advocate said the city continues to cater to mainstream society and only addresses accessibility challenges on a complaint-basis.

"If they were being proactive, they'd recognize that an [accessible] community during all seasons is a key driver for increased support of the private sector economy," he said.

If seniors around the territory need help with shoveling or transportation, they can call the Yukon Council on Aging.

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