Winter can be an isolating and potentially dangerous time for Minnesotans with disabilities. Before the snow flies, make plans for needs such as snow shoveling, Be ready for safe travels as a pedestrian, motorist or vehicle passenger.
Getting around can be a huge obstacle. When sidewalks and ramps aren’t shoveled, people who use mobility devices of all types struggle or stay home. Deep snow and slippery, packed down snow and ice cause falls, which can be disabling if not fatal.
Local units of government typically have regulations on when snow must be cleared from sidewalks. Typically sidewalks must be cleared 24 hours after snow stops falling. Not shoveling sidewalks can bring fines. People should not wait for snow to melt because it likely will freeze and create icy conditions.
Regulations may vary city to city, so it’s best to learn which ones must be followed for one’s home, work and location of activities. Cities and townships typically post regulations online. Or call the City or Town Hall for information. Be ready to file complaints if walks are not shoveled or if snow piles become so high as to obstruct views at intersections.
Everyone needs to keep walks cleared, including home owners and business owners with disabilities. Local business associations may have snow removal leads for business owners.
For disabled and older home owners, resources vary widely by community. If an area has a neighborhood organization and block leaders, see if a neighbor can help with snow removal this winter.
Other resources can include local community action programs and neighborhood living at home/block nurse programs. Faith-based institutions may also offer help as a community service.
St. Paul has a volunteer group on Facebook, called the Saintly City Snow Angels. Volunteers are matched with people who need help. Be aware that winters like the most recent one can really tax volunteer groups. Learn more at Saintly City Snow Angels facebook page.
Some disability-focused groups have organized to monitor sidewalks year-round. The Minneapolis Sidewalk Repair Hunters have a website and Facebook group that provides resources and information for that city. Learn more at Minneapolis Sidewalk Repair Hunters.
The Minnesota Council on Disability has a web page dedicated to snow removal. One point made is that businesses and other property owners have the responsibility to keep disability parking spaces and access aisles free from obstructions. In the winter, these obstructions include plowed snow.
Every winter the state council receives dozens of reports of snow piled up in disability parking spaces and access aisles. Those piles can turn into dangerous mounds of ice and snow. The access aisle is the “no parking zone” next to a disability parking space. For people who use disability parking, the access aisle is just as important as the space itself. People use this area to deploy wheelchair lifts and other adaptations from their vehicles. Without a clear access aisle, many folks who use disability parking would not be able to exit their vehicles.
It is against the law to place anything in the access aisle. A business or property owner could be fined up to $500 and be guilty of a misdemeanor for allowing snow, or anything else, to block disability parking spaces. This includes the access aisle. Local law enforcement is responsible for warning and fining business and property owners. Contact local law enforcement if snow is piled in any art of a disability parking space.
Learn more about snow removal at Minnesota Council on Disability – Snow Removal.
Those who can drive or who ride in motor vehicles should consider winter safety. Vehicles should get a winter safety check every fall. Remember when driving long distances or in rural areas, make sure gas tanks, antifreeze and wiper fluids are filled.
Check road conditions before heading out, at https://511mn.org/
The National Safety Council recommends having blankets or a sleeping bag, hand warmers, winter boots, mittens, socks and hats. An ice scraper and snow brush are must-haves. So are a flashlight plus extra batteries (or a hand-crank flashlight), road flares or reflective triangles, a red bandana or piece of cloth, windshield cleaner and jumper cables. It’s also helpful to have a multi-tool, such as a Swiss Army knife.
Pack a snow shovel, tire chains and tow strap. Include a bag of sand to help with traction. Cat litter works if it is clay, non-clumping litter. Traction devices that can be put under tires also work. Vehicle floor mats can be used in an emergency.
It’s a good idea to have a vehicle first aid kit year round, with band-aids, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, gauze pads, antiseptic cream, medical wrap and anything needed for a specific medical condition.
Bottled water and nonperishable high-energy foods such as unsalted and canned nuts, granola bars, raisins and dried fruit, peanut butter or hard candy are good to have. Seal the food items in a tin. Use a smaller, separate waterproof container for a lighter and box of matches, if snow must be melted for water.
Bring proper food and enough water for service animals.
Becoming stranded is a possibility. Make sure gas tanks are full and cell phones are charged before leaving on a trip. Make sure tires are properly inflated. Let others know the route and times of arrival and departure
If stranded, don’t leave the vehicle. Don’t try to push the vehicle out of the snow. Light flares, put out safety triangles and tie a red cloth or bandana to a vehicle where it can be seen.
Stay warm but only run the engine long enough to warm the vehicle. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, mud or anything else.
Several websites have great safety tips. Learn more at NHTSA Winter Weather Driving Tips.