With weather forecasts ranging from the 20s to below zero, residents in the U.S. can continue to expect snow and ice. Hopefully individuals with disabilities won’t find themselves stranded or surprised by taking some precautions and planning ahead.
Four ways to prepare for snow and ice
The bottom line is that there is no perfect solution for snow and ice removal, and any help needed won’t happen immediately. Follow these four tips to prepare for inclement weather:
1. Check the weather report
In addition, these individuals can check their city websites or with other local resources to find possible volunteer or fee-for-service entities to help them clear snow.
2. Check regular routes
Individuals can also check regular routes they travel, and especially routes they must travel for safety and security, before a snow event occurs to see where problems may arise.
3. Communicate with neighbors
Communication is also a key — letting neighbors and others know the importance of clearing snow and contacting local public works offices in advance might help ensure that routes you need to travel will be passable.
4. Become involved
To make positive lasting change, individuals can get involved in city government to institute or change city ordinances.
To deal with sometimes unavoidable weather conditions, people with disabilities and other pedestrians can be proactive by checking into local city ordinances, so they know what to expect. As we proceed through winter, cold temperatures and precipitation create chills for many, and the resulting snow and ice create obstacles if not outright hazards for others.
Whether using mobility devices or experiencing balance issues or instability, people with disabilities’ mobility may be significantly impaired or even prevented by weather conditions or others’ unwillingness to deal with it. Whose responsibility is it when it comes to access regarding snow and ice removal and other related barriers? Unfortunately, there are no perfect answers, but it’s good to know there is some awareness of these issues and efforts to remedy it.
Many cities across the country consider snow and ice removal to be a shared responsibility between property owners, tenants, occupants and city officials. Sidewalks, parking lots and walkways on or adjacent to private properties are often required to be cleared by property owners or occupants based on city policies and ordinances. Sidewalks, parking lots and walkways on and adjacent to public properties are to be cleared by public officials using public equipment. Still, however, those rules are not always followed by individuals, and sometimes weather conditions or the order of city priorities leave people with disabilities and other pedestrians unable to traverse necessary or chosen routes. Many cities have programs in place to help, and future planning can prevent those with limited mobility from being stranded.
Chicago, Ill., has taken this issue into account and made efforts to encourage the clearance of snow and ice from sidewalks. The City of Chicago website reminds its citizens to keep sidewalks clear and specifically lists individuals with disabilities and elderly people as those affected by failure to do so.
Chicago’s municipal codes 4-4-310 and 10-8-180 state that property owners and occupants are responsible for keeping sidewalks clear of snow within three hours if snow stops falling before 4 p.m. except on Sundays or by 10 a.m. the next day if snow stops falling after 4 p.m. or on Sundays.
Those responsible must clear a five-foot wide path along the side where conditions allow to enable passage of wheelchairs or assistive mobility and access devices. Private individuals not in compliance can be fined $50 while businesses can be fined between $250 and $500 per day of violation.
Chicago has also instituted a “Neighborly Neighbor” campaign to remind people to clear snow, including shoveling for a neighbor who is unable. The city’s “Winter Wonder” award can be given to businesses and organizations as a window poster for simply abiding by the law. Chicago’s Citicorp Volunteer program links volunteers with residents unable to clear their own snow. Finally, the city offers a hotline to anyone who wants to report uncleared snow.
While the public work website in Pittsburgh, Pa., doesn’t explicitly state necessity for individuals with disabilities, its snow and ice program has a similar approach and similar goals as Chicago.
Pittsburgh requests that residents help in snow removal efforts and uses its city code 419.03 to mandate clearance of sidewalks, “… within 24 hours after the fall of any snow or sleet or from the accumulation of ice caused by freezing rainfall.” Also listed are general guidelines by which sidewalks should be cleared. Again, the city shares responsibility by clearing sidewalks on and adjacent to public properties and by making available a public works phone line to report areas that have not been cleared.
Even much smaller cities such as Missoula, Mont., have city ordinances mandating clearance of snow and ice.
Like the others, Missoula’s approach is a cooperative effort by city workers and local residents Missoula Municipal Code 12.16.030 mandates that property owners and residents must clear adjacent walkways of snow and ice after snowfall by 9 a.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. on weekends while the city is responsible for public property walkways, streets and parking lots.
While the city apologizes for inconvenience, it does name property owners and residents as responsible for clearing berms created by snowplows that cross driveways and surround parked cars. Enforcement of private clearance in Missoula is not by fines but instead by having private properties cleared by city crews, which then results in a bill submitted to the property owner to pay for the service. Like Pittsburgh, Missoula officials recognize that some individuals are unable to clear snow and ice and therefore offer contact information for neighborhood councils and a program called First Call for Help to find volunteers to help.
Chris Clasby lives in Missoula, Mont. He is an avid hunter and fisherman, and of his work has centered on helping people with disabilities access the outdoors.