Working to Improving Wheelchair Accessibility During Winter
Several people in the PWD community are impacted each winter by the city of Ottawa’s poor snow removal service. Our already limited mobility becomes even more complicated when the roads, driveways, and sidewalks are icy and snow-covered. Many are forced to limit their daily activities or cannot leave their home.
As a person with a disability, I’d say that it continues to be one of the biggest challenges that we face in the community.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a meeting to discuss the city’s snow removal service and how we can better collaborate to ensure that the city responds to our concerns.
Somerset Councillor Ariel Troster, Rideau-Vanier Councillor Stephanie Plante, Stopgap Ottawa, Sally Thomas, and I attended the meeting.
One of the main topics discussed was how the city does a poor job of clearing snow from sidewalks, including OC Transpo stops. I often see snow piled up at OC Transpo stops, so much so that PWDs using mobility devices can’t access the stop. Even the sidewalks leading up to the OC Transpo stops are so packed with snow that PWDs cannot get to the stop or elsewhere. The same is true for Para Transpo buses. Para Transpo drivers often need to shovel snow for riders to get on and off the ramp.
According to the city guidelines, city snow removal workers are supposed to clear sidewalks and curbs to the ground. However, this is rarely the case, especially in Centretown.
To be fair, part of the blame also goes to private snow removal companies, which are contracted to do the snow removal for many Ottawa businesses and residents. Several companies dump the snow on the sidewalks and other road parts. Not only does it look messy, but it’s also dangerous, especially for PWDs and seniors.
The city does certain spots properly, but they are few and far between. Even when done correctly, there are still problems, and more needs to be addressed.
– Gathering snow at curb cuts creates barriers.
– Sidewalk standards (how wide clearance needs to be) must match any/all chairs and mobility devices.
– Bare, dry pavement needs to be standard – when wheels get wet, hands get wet, resulting in frostbite.
– Driveway slush being dragged across the sidewalk, ruining a previously clear sidewalk.
– More staff training on applying an accessibility lens is needed to build awareness of how problem spots are created.
Since Sally and I live in the same building, we were able to chat about the sidewalks in and around our building.
Sidewalks mentioned included:
– To Loblaws on Isabella Street, Shoppers Drug Mart on Bank and Gladstone.
– Bank St, McLeod, Argyle.
– The intersection of Isabella and Metcalfe needs serious review for accessibility. Residents, including Sally, have been nearly hit.
An interesting fact I found out during our meeting was that 40 percent of residents living in Centretown don’t own a car. Therefore, many residents use a mobility/transportation device to get around. City standards should reflect the needs of those who don’t have cars, especially PWDs and Seniors.
Other issues discussed included improving wheelchair accessibility in the ByWard Market area, including:
— Heritage designation/NCC makes improving accessibility in the ByWard Market challenging.
— More curb cuts could help – possibly near BeaverTails stand
— StopGap is working to get more ramps for one-step buildings in the Market. For example, the Art House patio could easily be made accessible.
I brought up concerns about the size of certain patios and how they create barriers for people using mobility devices and, in some cases, able-bodied pedestrians.
It’s important to note that this wasn’t just a one-off meeting.
Everyone present promised to take our feedback and concerns to the City of Ottawa snow clearing department and others involved. We also agreed to inform Ariel Troster and Stephanie Plante of areas in Centretown that could improve.
A follow-up meeting will be scheduled to continue discussing these issues in the Spring.
After the meeting, Sally and I briefly discussed the meeting, and we both felt it was one of the most productive meetings we have had in a long time. Trust me, we’ve had a lot of meetings with the City of Ottawa.
In this case, we felt like we were heard, including myself, which rarely happens in these types of meetings. We also made plans to follow up and keep in touch.
I would like to thank Ariel Troster, Stephanie Plante, and their assistants for being there and taking notes during the discussion. Thank you also to Stopgap Ottawa for continuing to offer their services in the community.
Last but certainly not least, a special thank you to Sally Thomas for being a wonderful host and welcoming us to her home.
I’m hopeful that this is the start of improving accessibility year-round.
Header image: Ryan Lythall and Sally Thomas with Councillor Ariel Troster.