Snow. We have only one word for this precipitation in our English language, even though it means so many different things for different people in different situations.
For some, it means fun and recreation. For others, it is a business opportunity.
For others, it is back-breaking work. Sometimes, it is all of these at once.
The accumulation of snow we've seen recently makes transportation and getting around the community a challenge. This is often the case no matter your physical condition. Slick sidewalks and icy roads are always a hazard.
However, for individuals with limitations on their mobility, streets full of snow can mean isolation or the inability to access businesses and services in the community. Imagine trying to negotiate an icy strip of sidewalk with an unstable gait or balance problems. Or try finding studded snow tires for a wheelchair.
There are some easy things that businesses and citizens can do to help ensure that people with disabilities are not homebound for the winter:•Clear your sidewalks before they become ice. This is helpful for all pedestrians, but necessary for people with challenges to their balance and walking and individuals who use walkers and wheelchairs.
•Curb cuts (those little ramps from the sidewalk to the street) are not gutters for ice collection. These are a necessity for anyone in a wheelchair (or a parent with a stroller, or the UPS delivery person with a cart). Walls of snow and ice in front of a curb cut prevent anything with wheels from getting onto the sidewalk.
•The cross hatching in the parking lot is not a place for storing plowed snow. Everyone knows this is where you are supposed to park your motorcycle (especially if you like having your motorcycle crushed by a hydraulic wheelchair lift). Those cross hatches at the "handicapped" parking spaces really are essential to give enough room for a wheelchair to be unloaded from a vehicle.
According to the American with Disabilities Act, the minimum clearance width to allow wheelchair passage is 36 inches. Any sidewalk that is not cleared to this width is impassible for wheelchair users and can force an individual in a wheelchair into the street.
The irony is that the times of the winter storms and treacherous pathways are also the same time of year when the most people are experiencing temporary limitations on their mobility (often because of that fun and recreation the snow brings).
It is good karma to help make sure that all people can get around our community. Some day you may be the one with the challenge.
For more information on good practices for accessibility, contact the National Network of ADA Centers at (800) 949-4232 or www.adata.org/adaportal/default.htm. For local resource and referral, call Southwest Center for Independence at 259-1672 or Community Connections at 259-2464.
Tara Kiene is the director of case management for Community Connections, Inc.