_____________________________________________ _____ â€œTres Dangereuseâ€?: The personal experiences of people with disabilities during the Metro Vancouver snow storms of December 2008 and recommendations _____________________________________________ ________ The BC Coalition of People with Disabilities and The Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities Committee 2009
Introduction In December 2008 there were four consecutive snow storms in Metro Vancouver that left close to 90 centimeters on the ground. 1 The unusual duration of the snow storms and the amount of snow that stayed on the ground created hardship for many seniors and individuals with disabilities. This report provides the personal experiences of some individuals who were willing to share their stories with the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities and follows with recommendations to municipalities, BC Housing, TransLink, and individuals to address the problems that arose. This weather event provides us with many learning opportunities.
Personal Experiences Ruth: My situation is that I am 50 and share a 2 bedroom ground floor apartment with my grown son, who helps me with some of my mobility issues; there is a family who lives on the floor above me. I have osteo-arthritis, degenerative disc disease, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic pain, fatigue problems, suffer from depression, and I am prone to PTSD symptoms. My son and I had a rough month to start with, during December, because he had been called in to work to cover some extra shifts and so I have not had his support as much as I normally do. My son is basically my only family as about half of them have passed away now. I came to Vancouver a few years ago for health reasons so my son could help me. I knew no one except for my son. Being confined as I have been for much of this time, I still have not managed to make any friends here. When I first moved here I soon began walking with a cane, but this eventually was not enough support for me. About 6 months ago I received a power 1
Environment Canada, National Climate Data and Information Archive, Daily Data Report for December 2008, Vancouver International Airport.
wheelchair and have greatly appreciated having it due to the new freedom it gave me, with actually being able to get out in the sunshine once in a while, and do my own shopping; my depression lifted a lot during this period. I lost that freedom when the snow came and remained that way for an entire month. I could not get my power chair past the driveway because the snow was too deep there. For me, during these weather conditions, I felt very trapped, and it affected me at a deep emotional level, especially having no contact with other people, besides my son, who was mostly working during that time. My asthma medication also ran out during this period; my breathing became laboured and I needed to see a doctor, but was unable to do so. The snow got so deep that even an ambulance would have had trouble getting in our driveway. Fortunately, I was able to convince my pharmacist to deliver my asthma medication to me, even though my prescription had run out. I don't know what I would have done had he refused to do so. I also had other issues which I needed to see the doctor about, but these were postponed until a later time. I am from Alberta, from Edmonton, and this simply would not have happened there, due to the laws. Certainly the snow would have come, however the laws in place would have been enough to inspire most residents to get out and shovel their sidewalks. Businesses and apartment buildings would have been the first to be held accountable; however the residents would also be quickly receiving threats of fines if they did not have it done within a specific time frame. If those laws were in place here, then I likely would not have been trapped at all. I asked my landlords about getting someone to come and clear the snow, and they said the guy was coming the next day; he did not come the next day, nor the day after that, or the day after that. I think they were not being honest about it, and like everyone else, were waiting around for the snow to melt. Meanwhile I was inside my apartment, half out of my mind for the time I was spending alone and feeling very trapped. I wished that someone could have visited me but I didnâ€™t have a clue who to ask. I heard from my son that on the next street over some residents got together and shoveled their own street from one end to the other, so that they could get in and out, and go to work. I applaud those individuals, and think that the city should offer rebates to community members in the future, for their efforts to do such things as this, since this city clearly does not have their own resources to do so. 3
Reisa: I was snowed in and it was horrible. I live in BC Housing, in a disabilitydesignated building for women 40+. They did not shovel the front walk until the 3rd day after the first big snow dump, and never shoveled around the back at all. It was very hazardous getting to the recycling/garbage. The main streets were passable, but I could not get my car out because BC Housing would not shovel the parking lot. I phoned the building manager repeatedly, and then the property manager. The building manager, as usual, had his phone set to fax squeal or to ring with no voice mail. The property manager did not return my messages. The front office did not return my message. This went on for three weeks. I was in agony. I have two spinal fractures, degenerative disk disease and arthritis, as well as only 50% use of my left arm. Walking uphill to the corner store for milk on the icy walks had me taking extra medication. I was only able to get the most basic groceries because my car was blocked. My car is an absolute necessity. I could not get out to see my physiotherapist. I had to walk through snowdrifts to the pool for therapy, and walk home with heavy wet items in my backpack. And all it would have taken was for them to shovel around the backs of our cars. This is a disability-designated building, and BC Housing's neglect was obscene.
Greg: We have people here in Burnaby in wheelchairs/scooters that haven't been able to go anywhere because the city won't clean the sidewalks. We can't even make it to the bus stops! We are being held hostage by the city, no more, no less. A court case may have to be thought about, as this is bordering on cruelty.
Jack : I use a scooter in Vancouver's West End and I found that after a few days the streets were pretty well cleared, but that the intersections, particularly the curb cuts, were not cleared; this meant that going more than one block was almost impossible. I would suggest that the City clearing crews work on 4
making these curb cuts clean. While it is true that owners are responsible for cleaning the streets in front of their property, nobody seems responsible for the curb cuts except the city. They should try to get on this issue sooner when the next storm hits.
Josette: Josette is blind and had just brought home a new guide dog, Wilma, on the 19th of December. She lives near Central Park in Burnaby and had been home-bound for two weeks. No one has shoveled the walks and in places where a single file path was cleared, she was unable to go out with her dog because it needs to walk beside her. The snow banks covering the curb dips make it extremely difficult to get around or cross the street.
Robin: Robin is in his 70s and lives in a VRS group home off Arbutus at Yew. He has a disability and is currently dealing with colon cancer. There was no plowing or shoveling done around his home and when he did get a ride to curling, he needed help from others to get over the snow banks.
Kim: Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront, especially in light of this years' unusual snowfall. It is better to be proactive than reactive. Our street was impassible for several days at a time on several occasions. Consequently I missed medical and other appointments. We called Surrey Roads Department about this and asked if they could take a "sweep" down our road when plowing in the neighborhood because I'm a quadriplegic and we also have two other people who use wheelchairs on our street. While the City said they "Could make no guarantees", we were pleased that they plowed two-thirds of our street. Perhaps there needs to be a formal policy regarding such prioritization, as I'm sure others are still feeling the mental and physical effects of "cabin fever", among other consequences.
Liz: Liz is unable to walk when the road is icy. She also uses some rubber grips on her shoes when she goes shopping. She is very unsteady and falls a lot. 5
She has a chronic sore and inflamed wrist from all her falls and her arthritis. She would like to get a walker for outside so she can walk her dog and go to the store.
Jeanette : I was house bound for three weeks. Not having snow tires on my van I didn't dare venture out. I live a quarter of a block from a grocery store, but I couldn't even get there for two weeks. When the sidewalk was cleared in front of my building the cleared area was only wide enough for people to walk on; wheelchairs and scooters could not use it. There is a city by-law stating that sidewalks must be cleared by 10 a.m. the morning after a snowfall. Does it state if it is to be the whole width of the sidewalk to be cleared or just a narrow strip that the able-bodied can walk on? There are four curb cuts in the middle of this block where I live and none of them were cleared in over 3 weeks. There is a bus loop across the street. The city ploughed the streets night and day to keep the roads clear, but the bus stops were piled high with snow! Passengers getting off the bus would have to climb up a mound of snow and then maneuver through the piles of snow to get onto the road, not the sidewalk. I think TransLink should have some system in place to clear the bus stops. There are many elderly people living in this area who use the bus. Apparently, some were injured when they ventured out to buy groceries and many that couldn't get out suffered from depression.
Florence: Florence lives in East Vancouver. She suffers from emphysema and needs to use a scooter to get around. She was trapped in her home for a week until she found someone who could give her a ride to the drug store to get the medications she needed. She said she could not get HandyDART because they were only providing rides for what they called “essential service”, such as dialysis and cancer treatment patients. The sidewalks in her area were impassible and very treacherous for seniors and people with disabilities. She said that it was impossible for people to get on and off the buses because it was so slippery – someone could have broken a leg or a hip. Florence thinks TransLink should do a better job of clearing the bus stops.
The main culprit is the black ice. Where I live the black ice is vicious on my street. I must walk on the street even though I only need to traverse one short block I find that cars do not travel on my street enough to keep the street walkable. And thus I am skating everywhere I go. And using my nonrubber tipped cane makes it even more dangerous .This morning was “tres dangereuse”; I just about fell, but managed to correct my fall and wrenched my right leg as well as my back.
The Effects of the Snow Storms The following are the key problems that thread throughout the personal experiences of people with disabilities and seniors: • Individuals were unable to get to medical appointments • Individuals were unable to get out to buy groceries • Individuals were either unable to get to transit stops or found them inaccessible due to piles of snow and ice at bus stops • Individuals with visual or mobility disabilities or those who have difficulty balancing often fell on the ice and were injured • Individuals who are blind and use a cane can not navigate the environment if the sidewalks are not cleared • Many individuals were isolated in their homes, unable to make critical community connections; many experienced depression.
Recommendations for Officials • Municipalities should clear snow around public facilities daily • Municipalities should clear snow from curb cuts because they were designed for the purpose of accessibility • Municipal by-laws should be worded to ensure that the entire width of the sidewalk should be cleared of snow so that wheelchair and scooter users and those with assistance animals can use them • Municipalities should engage in public awareness about the importance of clearing snow the full width of the sidewalk so that it is accessible to all members of the community
• Municipalities should immediately fine businesses, residential buildings, and care facilities that do not shovel snow within 24 hours • Municipalities should provide incentives or acknowledge community members who are civic-minded and shovel their sidewalks and clear their side streets • Municipalities should clear roads for essential HandyDART pick-ups, such as dialysis patients • Municipalities should plan for snow removal not just plowing since plowing often results in mounds of snow pilling up on sidewalks • TransLink, in partnership with municipalities, should ensure that the sidewalk areas at bus stops are cleared of snow and ice and are free of hazards such as snow piles • Transit workers should receive sensitivity training so they understand the difficulties people with disabilities face travelling on transit during snow storms and extreme weather • TTY service should be available at skytrain and major transit stations so that individuals who are deaf can find out whether transit service is cancelled or delayed due to snow storms • BC Housing should ensure that the sidewalks, street access areas, and parking lots are cleared of snow on a daily basis for all of its residential buildings
Recommendations for Individuals • Establish a network of neighbours, friends and family who can help you during an emergency • Have an emergency preparedness kit with extra food and water, medications and other aids or items you will need specific to your disability • Find out if your pharmacist will deliver • Find a grocerier in your area that will deliver