Winter Mobility Tips

Wondering how to beat the cold and still enjoy your time outside this winter? In this blog, we’ve compiled tips, tricks, and safety considerations from our staff and Facebook community to stay safe rolling, walking and biking all winter long.

Sidewalk? SideBLOCK! 

How We Fail Wheelchair Users in the Winter

“Even people who should know about the most basic details of life on wheels in the winter (healthcare, social workers and other care providers) don’t understand that people are stuck inside for ALL the months when snow and ice is left to accumulate.”

- Laura J Mac

We recently asked our Facebook community, as well as users from the “A Day in the Life of a PWD: Person with a Disability” Facebook page for tips from wheelchair users about how to get around safely during the winter. We were expecting solutions like, “wear warm clothes” and “bring a light in case it gets dark” and we were humbled to see that Every. Single. Response. was about wheelchair users’ near-complete

 lack of access to the outdoors and our shared spaces in winter.

The number one response we got (over and over) emphasized how poorly maintained infrastructure causes serious mobility and access issues.  Sidewalks and parking spaces that are incompletely cleared of ice and snow make it difficult, unsafe, or impossible for folks who use wheelchairs to access and enjoy public spaces during the winter. These responses are an indictment of those of us who are able to walk, because of our failure to take the needs of all users into consideration. This is a systemic issue. In Burlington, we do have the snowdragons that clear the sidewalks, and they generally do a good job, BUT their good work can be undone by someone else pushing snow back onto the sidewalk, such as when clearing a driveway.  

Using the bus is just as fraught. How are wheelchair users supposed to get from the sidewalk to the bus door if there is a pile of snow separating the bus from the sidewalk?


Infrastructure Barriers

“If no one clears the sidewalks, I'm not going out at all.”

- Anonymous wheelchair user


“I just can't use my scooter at all in the winter basically because of the sidewalk issues. Clear the sidewalks and those little mounds between driveways.”

- Carol Ann “Sunshine” Wooster (Burlington)


To me, there is nothing more frustrating than getting partway to my destination only to have to turn around and go back home because I suddenly encounter a sidewalk or curb cut that hasn't been shoveled.”

- Jennifer Burgmann


“I hate it when they shovel a skinny pathway on the sidewalk that doesn’t fit my chair. Please shovel the entire sidewalk and be mindful of corners. Wheelchairs need extra space to turn and navigate, plus other people who push past you. A snowbank on the other side of the corner that I don’t initially see can be dangerous and make other people walk right into my chair when I have to stop and turn around.”

- Anonymous wheelchair user


Be aware that curb cut outs often aren't cleared in the winter, be prepared to either clear your own path or find a longer way around when paths are blocked by piled snow.”

- Kelly Brush


Don’t fill the mobility parking spot w the snow you sorta, halfway cleared from the travel path”

- Laura J Mac


“Not only the walkways, but when plows and shovelers don’t clear out the entire accessible parking spaces to allow side access to the vehicle.”

- Anonymous wheelchair user


“Shovel the ENTIRE sidewalk not just half of it. And this goes without saying, but shopping carts, trash cans, and trendy outdoor heated tables do not belong on sidewalks unless there is enough clearance to go around!” 

- Anonymous wheelchair user



Here’s what folks had to stay about staying warm and safe when they are able to access outdoor spaces:

“Sports gear is well designed to keep us warm/protected in the winter too. Lightweight, designed for wicking moisture and layering… but expensive - buy/sell/free groups are a goldmine this time of year after everyone just replaced for xmas.”

- Laura J Mac


“Bring something to cover your legs. They can get quite cold moving through cold air.”

- Anonymous


Using tires that have more tread work much better in icy/snowy conditions. Make sure to have waterproof gloves, snow will soak through your gloves quickly if they aren't waterproof”

- Kelly Brush

One of the most important points to make is that people's challenges with their disabilities are very often not from the disability itself, but from the barriers constructed (literally) by the rest of us, that make it impossible for them to function.  We put stairs in when we could just as easily put in a ramp.  We make everything verbal, when we could just as easily, and often more efficiently, accompany it with written instructions.  We fail to sufficiently clear sidewalks.  In short, we have literally built spaces that only some folks can access, and others have absolutely no way of accessing, even when other, equally good (and sometimes better) options are available. Let’s do better.

Anything we missed? Let us know by emailing [email protected]

All persons credited are with their permission