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Storm after storm has consumed the mind of many East Coasters in recent weeks. Indeed, most of the country is marveling at Boston’s historic storm season. Three feet of snow in under three weeks is problematic for almost everyone. However, people with disabilities (PWD) are often in even greater peril than the general public.
Cold exposure dangers may be greater for PWD as certain conditions may be exacerbated. Services and supports can be interrupted, such as personal care assistance (PCA), Meals on Wheels, and government provided transportation services. In Boston, for the past several days, the Massachusetts Bay transit Authority (MBTA)’s RIDE paratransit program has advised customers to “schedule only necessary trips and expect delays.”
Many wheelchair users opt to roll short distances rather than wait for public transit, which may not have working lifts, and/or places to deploy them, or paying for paratransit which cost several dollars each way. With the amount of snow that has fallen, some sidewalks have been reduced to an 18 inch wide travel path; less than 50% of the 42 inch minimum recommended by The American Institute of Architects. Furthermore, most wheelchairs were not meant to operate on the compacted, terrain altering storm remnants remaining on many walkways.
Winter Storm Neptune bore down on the snow weary East Coast. It was scheduled to arrive on Valentines Day and continue through February 15. Winter Storm Octavia was expected to make landfall on Sunday, too. It caused havoc the South, but had a minor effect on the East Coast before it dissipated Wednesday.
Across the impact zone PWD are preparing. This winter full of storm woes has taught them to do so. From conducting last-minute shopping trips to purchase food and supplies to ensuring they have their assistance needs meant, no one took Neptune lightly. One area wheelchair user, who doesn’t usually have overnight PCA coverage, arranged to have someone stay with her through most of Neptune’s projected timeline. She describes Winter Storm Marcus as, “a heart attack,” but “I should be fine unless I lose power at the very end … while no one is here.”
All this preparation is exactly what Certified Emergency Response Team (CERT) instructor, Colorado-based Anita Cameron recommends. Nearly blind since birth and living with mobility issues that require her to use a cane or a wheelchair, Cameron assisted the cities of Washington, D.C., Rochester, and Denver to revamp their preparedness procedures to include the disability community.
As another storm arrives, Cameron advises PWD to “Make sure you have extra disability supplies on hand… That you have enough supplies… food and water to survive at least three to seven days sheltering at home… At least one gallon of water per person per day for drinking and hygiene in case the pipes are frozen. Don’t forget that this includes service animals and pets, too… including their paperwork on s hots and vaccinations… Have a go bag with these supplies and clothes in case you have to evacuate.”
The storm came; disrupting yet one more weekend of activities and threatening to cause another Monday of school and work closures. This time the storm wasn’t as bad as predicted.
Across New England, however, the countdown to March 20 – the first day of spring – reaches fever pitch. People with disabilities are foremost among those awaiting an end to storm woes. The annual warming is on the horizon, I wouldn’t count Old Man Winter out just yet.
Written by Martina Robinson
E-mail interview with Anita Cameron
Photo Credit- Adrian Cabrero License