Saturday, December 22, 2007

More icy sidewalks, hazardous for those in wheelchairs

Continuing the last topic of dangerous walking, we at the Salem Commission on Disabilities could just specialize in sidewalks--we'd still have more work than we could handle!

This quote from today's Globe:

If you think it has been tough trudging along Boston's snowy, icy, slushy streets and sidewalks this week, try it in a wheelchair.

The city has been a frozen obstacle course for people with disabilities, a problem compounded by businesses, institutions, and state and city agencies that have ignored their obligation to clear the way for people in wheelchairs to get from their homes to city streets, according to an advocacy group for the disabled.

Among those failing to sufficiently clear away snow have been the state's Division of Conservation and Recreation, Northeastern University, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, said the organization, called the Neighborhood Access Group.

"It's pervasive, unrelenting, and demoralizing," said the head of the group, John Kelly. He said some members may not attend their own holiday party this afternoon at a housing complex in the Fenway, because sidewalks in the vicinity are still impassable, crosswalks blocked, and wheelchair ramps treacherous.

"Many of us can't even leave our houses," he said. (emphasis added)

Several years ago, the Commission went through this problem with the Post Office in Salem. This building had a ramp retrofitted to it, running in a serpentine route to the right of the main entrance.

It was closed during the winter due to ice dams building up on the roof. Repairs to the roof were tied up for a long time due to bureaucracy. Wheelchair users were supposed to go in through the rear of the building, which is employees-only and a private area. In the meantime, 9/11 happened, and the post office was somehow convinced that it might not be a great idea for the chair-using public to pass through sensitive areas. The roof got its repairs this year and the ramp is now open, at least so far this winter.

This season, one of my fellow commissioners is fighting with the YMCA over snow removal. The YMCA building on the corner of Sewall & Essex is also the site of the Zisson elderly/disabled housing complex. The van space in front of the building has been continually blocked by an endless array of snowbanks, construction vehicles, illegally-parked cars and other such obstacles.

The parking lot, as most parking lots around the city, is choked with snow. Elderly vans and chair cars can't take on or let off their passengers. Snowmelt makes things worse as huge puddles (1" to as much as 3" deep!) form at the base of ramps where they meet the street surface. It's bad enough just walking through an inch of water, never mind in a chair or on crutches! Also, many crosswalks are located at or near storm drains and these are often clogged with snow allowing enormous curb-swallowing rivers to form!

Boston's Neighborhood Access Group is on the case! They have an excellent blog with a lot of incriminating pictures that clearly show icy sidewalks impassible to the disabled.

Most able-bodied people navigate these crossings with a lot of frustration but take them for granted; it's winter, after all. I used to do the same thing. Lately, I've started looking at the three-foot snowbanks I find outside the grocery store and saying, "Why do I have to climb over this for another year in a row! Waiting in the street for the bus doesn't build character!"

I wish I had the answer.

Globe article: Icy walkways create a special challenge for those in wheelchairs - The Boston Globe

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