News / Halifax

'I can't go on a date:' Snow-packed sidewalks in Halifax stunt accessibility for wheelchair users

Sidewalks piled with snow and ice prove hazardous for residents with physical disabilities every winter, but conditions in Halifax have gotten treacherous enough this year that least two wheelchair users are taking matters into their own hands.

Local photographer Paul Vienneau spent five hours last week shoveling a path from the sidewalk to a crosswalk after two weeks of being unable to leave his downtown home because of ice-crusted sidewalks and crosswalks.

“I can’t work. I can’t go on a date. I can’t see friends or family or doing anything that people take for granted like buying food, paying phone bills, etcetera,” he said during a recent interview.

Vienneau said he’s grown increasingly lonely and isolated after being confined to his home for almost two straight weeks, and had to cancel several photo shoots.

Needing to use the crosswalk at Spring Garden Road and Brenton Street to pay a phone bill at Scotiabank, he finally borrowed a plastic shovel and metal rod from his building and spent five hours clearing the area – by himself.

“I want to cross the street and pay my God damn phone bill like an adult person,” he said Friday.

Vienneau wasn’t alone in his frustration. A woman contacted Metro last week, shocked after seeing another wheelchair user near her children’s daycare breaking up the ice on a sidewalk with a plastic shovel.

Victoria MacDonald said the sidewalks hadn’t been cleared before the man took action.

“Had he have not (shovelled) he wouldn’t have been able to get up the sidewalk, let alone anybody else,” she said.

“When a sidewalk is encrusted with layers of snow and ice imagine for a moment what that must be like for someone who uses a wheel chair,” Henk van Leeuwen, president and CEO of Easter Seals, said.

Van Leeuwen said he’s no expert in city’s snow clearings efforts, but explains that accessibility is critical to ensuring Nova Scotians with physical disabilities are able to live independently and feel included as residents.

Restricted access to daily needs such as relationships, groceries, or jobs, simply means that people with disabilities can’t fully function as citizens, Van Leeuwen said.

MacDonald recalled how she offered to help the man in Spryfield, but he refused, explaining he wanted to guarantee the pathway was safe for anyone with a wheelchair, stroller or walker.

“It’s just not right,” she said. “There’s gotta be something more that can be done.

Vienneau also said countless people – many of whom were horrified – offered to help while he was clearing the sidewalk last Thursday – but he declined.

“It felt like my thing to do,” he said, explaining that he just hopes some member of a winter crew will have a “light bulb moment”, and see the face of one of the many residents whose lives are affected by their jobs.

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