Record snow creates 'nightmare' for people with accessibility issues, says advocate urging better clearing

A Calgary accessibility advocate says there are people with mobility challenges across the city who are suffering due to the city’s current level of snow clearing, and there are some real consequences.

Darby Lee Young says record snowfall is causing huge challenges for people with mobility issues

Accessibility advocate Darby Lee Young says snow clearing this year had led to some people with mobility issues being stuck in their homes. (CBC,Trevor Carter)

A Calgary accessibility advocate says there are people with mobility challenges across the city who are suffering due to the city's current level of snow clearing, and there are some real consequences.

"It leads to depression. It really hurts an individual's self-esteem," Darby Lee Young told the Calgary Eyeopener Monday, of people who find themselves housebound due to record snowfall this winter.

"Anyone with any type of disability that has to go out and rely on Calgary Transit Access, for them to even be picked up becomes dangerous. They now have to stop in the road because they can't get to curb. When we know the snow is coming, I go to the grocery store and then just hunker down in my house for a couple of days."

Young is an accessibility advocate with mild cerebral palsy who runs a consulting company called Level Playing Field.

Usually she uses either a scooter or a wheelchair, but sometimes for short trips she tries to walk. She says, however, this winter has been unusually challenging.

"It has been quite a nightmare," she said.

"The other day I just wanted to go a block and a bit with my assistant to look at some accessible parking. Because of the buildup on the curb cut, when I crossed the street  I knew I had to get a little bit of speed, but when I hit the curb cut I actually ejected myself out of my chair. My chair hit the snow and stopped and I kept going."

Young has a friend on city council on this issue. Coun. Druh Farrell says there has to be a way to improve service levels of snow clearing.

"We have a fiscal stability reserve, we also have an emergency reserve for snow clearing so let's tap into that and do a better job for people who are just unable to get around their city," Farrell said Monday.

"In the short term we need to do something to help people get out of their homes. It's boiling down to a human rights issue as far as I am concerned."

Coun. Shane Keating says, however, he has not had a lot of general complaints on that level of service.

"I have had a few emails, not a great number, and they are talking about specific locations," Keating said.

"If we truly want a different style or type of snow removal policy that's fine, as long as you engage with the residents and the residents are saying we desperately need it and there has to be the funding that goes along with it. Do we need to change? That's for people to give us the evidence that they want change."

Another Calgarian has taken matters into his own hands.

Chaparral resident Martin Purvis tested out his own snow-removal invention over the weekend.

Purvis attached a snowblowing device to his wheelchair, in part because his wife works long hours and he wanted to help out. He's paralyzed from the waist down.

"With all this snow we have been getting, I wanted to see if I could help in some way," Purvis told CBC News.

A video of his Saturday morning handy work was posted to Twitter by a family friend.

He says his third attempt was the charm.

"I joined the ropes to a centre point between the handles so that I could pivot the snowblower and I gave it a try and it towed me along quite nicely. Backing up was a little trickier but I found I could tip the snowblower back a bit, put it in reverse and it would push me back up the driveway and I could take another run at it," Purvis said.

"It worked really quite well as long as I didn't get into anything too heavy because there is always the danger of getting stuck."

Purvis says he understands that snow clearing has been a challenge for the city after some record snowfalls.

Keating says it's important to make any changes in the best way possible.

"Could we give better service, possibly? Could we give better service with more money? Even that is debatable. Sometimes you can throw more money at it and you don't get better service because you haven't changed the style or the way you do it."

But for Young, something needs to improve because it's hurting some Calgarians.

"It is difficult. It is very difficult. When people don't shovel their walks and they wait and hope a chinook comes in and melts, that becomes very dangerous. I have a friend yesterday who slipped and fell and broke her ankle," Young said.

"There is of course the snow budget, which is an issue. Until somebody slips and falls on your sidewalk or gets hurt, people really just don't understand."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said it's a matter of finances but he's happy to have that conversation if enough Calgarians want it.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener