MS Society of Canada regional director Lorraine Evans Cross helps MS client Sandie Olsen negotiate the alley behind the MS office in downtown Red Deer.

Winter making it tough for wheelchairs

A record snowfall in Red Deer has caused havoc for drivers, residents and pedestrians, but its impact on those confined to a wheelchair has left many feeling trapped.

A record snowfall in Red Deer has caused havoc for drivers, residents and pedestrians, but its impact on those confined to a wheelchair has left many feeling trapped.

Lorraine Evans-Cross, Central Alberta Multiple Sclerosis Society regional director, said every year at this time some of her clients who are in a wheelchair, or who have unstable mobility, begin to feel the walls of their home getting closer because of how hard it is to get around.

“Any alteration of their path is going to impede their mobility,” said Evans-Cross.

“Just any snow buildup on the sidewalks or on the curb-cuts on at the bus stops forces our clients to stay home because it just isn’t possible to get around in an average snowfall, let alone this craziness.”

Heather Dahl has been in a wheelchair since she was 17. Now, at 42, she is still frustrated by how inaccessible the city can be to people in wheelchairs, especially at this time of year.

Recently she was stuck in the entrance-way of the parking lot of her apartment in her van. Unable to move she called her landlord hoping for some help.

“She told me I’d have to stay there until I got unstuck, unless I had AMA,” said Dahl, who doesn’t have AMA.

Eventually her elderly neighbour, who uses a cane; her daughter and another person helped push Dahl out.

A single parent, Dahl can’t go grocery shopping or to the mall alone. She can’t wheel herself anywhere because snow is dumped on the sidewalk.

“My neighbour went and bought a shovel, across the hall went and bought a shovel, the guy upstairs went and bought a shovel because the sidewalks aren’t shoveled here so I can get to work in the morning,” said Dahl. “They don’t start (shovelling) until 9 or 10.”

Jean Stinson, Red Deer Action Group Society president, lives downtown and said about 50 per cent of the sidewalks in her area aren’t shovelled-out by homeowners.

“It is a huge issue for people in wheelchairs,” said Stinson. “Homeowners aren’t cleaning, in front of apartment buildings they are not cleaning either – not all of them.

“Then you have your curbs where a person in a wheelchair or an elderly person are not able to do so because there is no clearing whatsoever.”

She said the city and the people of Red Deer need to do more for clearing, otherwise people who have any kind of mobility impairment can quickly become shut-in for an extended period of time.

While people can help a bit by being vigilant about clearing their sidewalks, Evans-Cross said it would be an issue no matter the snowfall.

“Snow removal will assist, but the roads are hard to get so wheelchairs will just get stuck,” she said. “We have a volunteer who comes to our office on a handi-bus and the bus gets stuck in our back alley.”

But it isn’t all bad for people in wheelchairs in the city. The neighbours who shovel and push for Dahl for example, or in the case of David Radcliffe, the staff at the Collicutt Centre and random strangers.

Radcliffe just started using a wheelchair, because of his MS for traveling any distance outside of his home.

“It’s amazing how many people go out of their way to help,” he said. “In this snow I get stuck and I have people offer to push me out, people holding doors, people I think really going out of their way to help and it has just been so positive.”

An active guy, he said two people Chris Martyn and Sharon Kidd, helped set up a workout program tailored specifically for him. Able to run six miles just a few years ago, he is now limited to short dog walks before he has to return to the wheelchair.

“I really love still being able to do the gym,” said Radcliffe.

“People are just so willing to help you.”

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