Snow and slush slow down and frustrate wheelchair users

With snow build-up often making it impossible for wheelchairs to get around, Bronx-resident  Rodolfo Diaz says he spends most of his winter weekends at home.
With snow build-up often making it impossible for wheelchairs to get around, Bronx-resident Rodolfo Diaz says he spends most of his winter weekends at home.

Last Friday, after a week of heavy snow fall, writer and activist Edith Prentiss left her Washington Heights apartment for the first time in a over a week.

“I did some grocery shopping. I needed some vegetables. I needed to make some soup,” she said.

Prentiss, who has been using a motorized wheelchair to get around the city since 1992 was stuck inside of her apartment again last week because of a build-up of snow and water at the intersections of Broadway and 181st.

“With the snow and the slush, if I go through water that is 3 to 4 inches deep my motors die,” Prentiss said. “So I’ve been here, organizing my bookcases.”

Prentiss is among over 60,000 New Yorkers with disabilities who have been trapped inside of their homes or forced to take extended routes to work because of un-cleared intersections, snowy sidewalks and build-ups of slush in the road.

“The snow makes it really difficult for the wheels of a wheelchair or a scooter to operate,” said Susan Dooha, Executive Director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in Midtown. “It takes much longer to get around.”

According to Dooha, who uses a cane in the winter to prevent herself from slipping on ice patches, essential pathways for people who use wheelchairs are often left forgotten in city and civilian snow removal efforts.

“The streets when they are cleaned are not always cleaned with a wide enough pathway to make it usable for wheelchairs,” she said. “It’s even difficult when you get to the corner because of the the curb ramp.”

For many wheelchair users in New York City, winter is an emotionally challenging time. Bronx-resident, Rodolfo Diaz, opens up about his experience.

Bus stops and curbs piled with snow can also make it impossible for people with limited mobility to take public transportation.

“If there’s snow blocking the bus stop I need someone to help me,” said Rodolfo Diaz, a 30-year old housing specialist in the Bronx who uses a manual wheelchair.

Long travel times and increased dependence on others to get around, he added, add to feelings of isolation and frustration.

“In the winter I don’t go out much because of the snow,” he said. “It’s uncomfortable.”

Center for Independence for the Disable’s Dooha says that her organization has been advising  emergency planners for years on how to make New York more accessible in winters. So far they have suggested more frequent cleaning of curb corners and bus stops.

But improving public awareness about how the snow affects disabilities communities, she said, will be the key to improving snow removal conditions.

“People they think of an emergency think of an hurricane or think of a terrorist attack, but much more common is snow,” she said. “Snow disproportionately affects disability communities.”



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