As this week’s dump of snow so aptly reminded us all, getting around Winnipeg in winter can be tough. The snow, slush and ice can make transportation nearly impossible for those who use wheeled mobility devices.
Matthew Ferguson, 24, has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair.
“It’s really hard,” Ferguson says of getting around in Winnipeg winters. “I can’t have the independence to be on the outside by myself. I need to be by myself sometimes – it’s good for my mood. The fresh air is important too.”
Occupational therapy researchers at the University of Manitoba are trying to find out what could be done to ease winter time transportation woes for those who use wheelchairs and scooters.
Researchers are asking wheeled mobility device users and their family members to fill out a survey. Results will help determine the improvements that could be made to built environments such as buildings and sidewalks, as well as potential changes to government policy and the mobility devices themselves.
“Some of what we get in terms of the information from people that answer the survey may determine where things go in the future – whether that’s a need for future research, or information we can relay to other parties,” explains survey research coordinator Shannon Keys.
Poor snow clearing can be a major concern for both comfort and health and safety, Keys says. For example, sidewalks often aren’t cleared quickly or well enough. Curb cuts at intersections are also frequently done incorrectly so that wheelchairs don’t have enough space to exit the sidewalk and cross the road.
Often the devices themselves, especially batteries and components in motorized devices, aren’t designed for use in cold and snowy climates, Keys says. Ferguson notes larger wheels on his wheelchair would really help. Applicable survey findings may be passed on to manufacturers.
The winter mobility issue is a complex one – there’s no quick fix, and no one thing is to blame, Keys says.
“Some of it is city and province, and some of it is the devices themselves and attitudes,” she says. “Maintenance is a big issue – so making sure sidewalks are cleared… bus stops and Handi-Transit stops are cleared. Part of that is attitude and maintenance schedule.”
Regardless of the reason, a lack of mobility options can have a real impact on individuals’ quality of life. Ferguson, who studies agriculture at the University of Manitoba and wants to work in plant therapy, says the snow really impacts his life. While in the summer he has the freedom to spend time outside by himself, snow-packed sidewalks mean that same independence is often not possible in the winter.
“I feel like I’m isolated and stuck inside,” he says.
People are asked to fill out the survey, which will take 35-40 minutes to complete, before May 1. Researchers are looking at a variety of wheeled mobility devices (including manual and power wheelchairs and scooters), geographic locations, ages and employment statuses.
Participants can be entered to win a Tim Horton’s gift certificate. The survey can be completed online, or on paper or over the phone upon request. For more information, phone 204-789-3303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.