Unshovelled sidewalks isolate people with disabilities, accessibility consultant says

·4 min read
A man shovels snow in front of his business in Vancouver on Feb. 25, 2021.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A man shovels snow in front of his business in Vancouver on Feb. 25, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The danger of navigating snowy sidewalks can confine people living with disabilities to their homes, says accessibility consultant Amy Amantea.

"We're isolating people. We're shutting them off. We're closing them off getting to medical appointments, getting essential goods in their homes."

Amantea, who is a resident of North Vancouver and sits on the North Shore advisory committee on disability issues, is partially sighted with two per cent vision. Walking around her community over the past few weeks has been a challenge.

"I sense the snow differently, not necessarily with my eyes but under my feet and I find it quite treacherous to walk and to navigate with my white cane."

In North Vancouver, property owners must remove snow and ice from sidewalks in their perimeter within 24 hours after snow has stopped falling or before the snow accumulation reaches 10 centimetres.

Amantea said even though homeowners and businesses are responsible for shoveling their sidewalks, many pathways in her neighbourhood go days without being cleared.

"I find that that doesn't get done in a very timely manner. For me, the consequence is that I can't get to my bus stop in a safe way. I can't necessarily navigate to the local grocery store."

Amantea said municipalities need to step up, either by better enforcing the rules or by contracting people to shovel sidewalks.

LISTEN | Amy Amantea talks about what local governments need to do to ensure roads and walkways are safe and accessible:

"There's never any penalty for folks … if we want to encourage the right thing, we kind of need to enforce those penalties."

Amantea said a community forum to help people identify and check on people in their neighbourhood with disabilities during extreme weather events would be a worthwhile endeavour.

"This is the one time where I use that dreaded H word. I am not a handicapped person, but I get handicapped by my environment."

Kelowna disability advocate Spring Hawes, who is in a wheelchair, says people often think those with disabilities can rely on family, friends and people they come across for help getting around snow piled on sidewalks, but often that's not the case.

"I have no defence mechanism whatsoever. I literally have to sit there and hope that the next person that comes along is kind and generous and able to help me, and that's just not OK," she told host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South.

Last week, Prince George artist and disability advocate Troy Lindstrom, who has psoriatic arthritis, noticed a pile of plowed snow blocking his way to a grocery store two blocks away from his apartment building where, he says, many other people with disabilities also live. He says he reported the issue to the City of Prince George, and the snow was cleared the next day.

Lindstrom says many people with disabilities avoid going out in this kind of weather.

"If you don't have a vehicle, if you are low-income, then you're stuck, and that wears on you mentally," he told host Carolina de Ryk on CBC's Daybreak North.

"When the sidewalks aren't plowed properly or they let the snow pile up and they're uneven, then it's just when you're walking, your body is constantly trying to keep its balance … it just takes all that energy away as a person with disability."

Snow angels to the rescue

A group of volunteers in Vancouver called the Snow Angels shovel sidewalks for residents that are unable to clear snow on their own, including those with limited mobility and seniors.

The program matches people that need assistance with a volunteer in their area.

Volunteer DJ Lawrence said the snow angels have had a busy week. Lawrence said they have about 82 volunteers on their roster and are always recruiting more.

"It's good fun. it's good exercise. It gives you an opportunity to help people in your community and helps people that do have mobility challenges to get out and around," said Lawrence.

In the City of Vancouver, property owners and occupants are required to clear snow and ice around their property by 10 a.m. the morning following a snowfall.

After a record snowfall in the city in 2019, 244 property owners were charged with failing to do exactly that.

"People are starting to understand you're supposed to have them cleared by 10 in the morning and that helps everybody in the community," said Lawrence.

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