Snowy sidewalks still hazardous for wheelchair users

    Even after Philadelphia has largely dug out after the last snowfall, those who use wheelchairs, crutches and walkers are still having trouble getting around.

    The city’s new law requiring residents and business owners to shovel a 3-foot-wide path along the sidewalk aims at making walkways accessible for all. But many wheelchair users say they haven’t noticed a difference in how much people are shoveling.

    Celina Sanderlin, of East Oak Lane, said she ended up in the street after the last big snowfall because the path wasn’t wide enough for her electric wheelchair.

    “I haven’t seen any changes since last year,” Sanderlin said.

    Even when the sidewalks are cleared, Sanderlin said curb cuts, or the areas where sidewalks slope down to meet the streets, are filled with snow or covered in ice and remain impassable.

    “Even if I can ride along the sidewalk, when I get to the end, it’s like a pile of snow right there at the curb cut and I can’t get off the curb,” she said. “That means I have to back up, all the way from where I came, and get back out in the street.”

    Nancy Salandra with Liberty Resources, Philadelphia’s Center for Independent Living, said the advocacy group is working to make city workers more aware of the importance of heaping snow elsewhere along the curb.

    “If you do your sidewalk and all the snow gets piled on the curb cut, it’s useless to someone in a chair,” Salandra said. “Chairs are not automobiles, they can only do so much.”

    Salandra said it’s hard to compare conditions this year to any other because of the sheer amount of snow the city has gotten recently, but she said she thinks the streets themselves have been a little clearer this year, if not the sidewalks.

    Damon Martin, a South Philly resident who uses a wheelchair, said he hasn’t been able to board his bus at its usual Center City stop. Instead, he has had to travel to the end of the block.

    “They couldn’t pick me up because the snow had been shoveled so high they couldn’t put the lift down,” Martin said.

    City officials say it is the responsibility of whoever owns the home or business in front of the curb cut to shovel the area. Philadelphia has received 1,367 complaints about snow-covered sidewalks since the beginning of December. Before the last snowstorm, it had issued 855 tickets for improperly cleared sidewalks.

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