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Challenges Faced in Winter Wonderlands

Ice on tree branches

I cannot believe that December is already creeping upon us. While I appreciate this time of year, I develop a new sense of agony because I know that snow is likely to appear sooner or later.

I still remember, as a young child, looking out of the window at that first snow fall – I was so happy that I felt I could cry tears of joy. As I grew older, that excitement shifted in emotions of anxiety and fear. I now catch myself saying farewell to my independence and bracing for a few months of hibernation and solitude. My lived experiences in the winter differ significantly from other seasons, and the reason might not be so evident to some individuals. Let me explain. It is important to note that the following encounters with winter are derived from my lived experiences. It is thus essential to not generalize, because it is not necessarily what other disabled folks are experiencing.

I fully recognize the predominance of ‘winter blues’ in the daily lives of millions of individuals, and I am not attempting to reduce its impacts. I personally do not mind the brisk air, and I find the snow on the ground quite refreshing. It seems I find new perspectives in the winter and I have moments of self-growth. Despite this, I still dread the start of colder weather and snow falls, especially months after I arrive in a new city.

I always rely on my motorized wheelchair to get around campus and the greater community of Kingston and navigating built environments can be challenging in any circumstances. In the winter months though, it is particularly difficult to actively participate within society because I cannot predict sidewalk conditions. I usually hold a very hectic lifestyle and schedule my days by the hour. Sidewalk conditions, however, impede my capability of sustaining my typical life – and this is what I find to be most frustrating during winter.

Sidewalk covered in snow

Even slight snow on the ground can cause my wheelchair to get stuck or slip. I feel very vulnerable in such instances because I must seek support to get moving again. There is no such thing as CAA for mobility devices, so I call upon folks passing by to offer assistance. Despite some sidewalks being cleared from snow, I do not have a way of knowing if others will be in similar conditions – especially when I am traveling in different parts of the city.

This will be my first winter in Kingston, so I do not know yet what to expect. It might be one of the best winters I have seen in a long time. In the past, however, I had horrible experiences caused by sidewalks that were covered in ice and snow. Most wheelchairs are not constructed to drive in winter conditions – mine broke almost every week last year. I usually travel in a conventional city bus, but I must book trips with the specialized transit system. While many disabled folks use this type of service on a regular basis, it causes me anxiety because it is an additional hurdle that I must encounter daily. Folks request bookings a few days in advance with exact times, and I find it challenging to do so as moments in my life are often unpredictable.

As a first year MA student, I do not have knowledge pertaining to winters in Kingston. I asked several folks about sidewalk conditions, and I have honestly received different answers. It will not be long until I uncover the truth for myself – and I am already bracing for the worst in winter wonderlands.

Posted in Accessibility, Built environments, Disability

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