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Michigan residents with disabilities hit hard by polar vortex


Michigan's record snowfalls and cold are inconvenient for everyone, but they are especially difficult for people with disabilities.

The snow and ice still on Michigan sidewalks can trap people with disabilities at home or even put them in danger. Just getting to work or to a doctor's appointment can be daunting.

Piotr Pasik is with the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition. He is also a graduate student.  He has cerebral palsy and uses a mobility scooter.

Pasik said the biggest challenge uncleared snow sidewalks, curb cuts and bus stops, where many people with disabilities access essential transportation.

He said curb cuts are a special challenge because each time the streets are plowed a new mound of snow blocks them. Often he just can't get through.

"I have had to use the actual street, and I don't feel it's safe, but at least I know I can get to where I'm going," he said.

Pasik said just one unclear area can create an insurmountable barrier.  He said one day his scooter tipped over three times.

Carolyn Grawi is with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living.  She is legally blind.  She said when sidewalks are not clear, she cannot make out their edges to stay on course, and when she uses a cane, it gets stuck and cannot guide her.

She said that people in wheelchairs and with walkers get blocked in ways that can be dangerous as well as inconvenient.

"Mobility devices just get stuck and then the individual cannot make progress. Sometimes they can't get back out, and so that becomes very, very dangerous," she said. "With subzero weather, people are being exposed to frostbite and hypothermia."

Many cities require businesses and homeowners to clear their sidewalks and  the curb cuts next to their property.

Both Grawi and Pasik said that removing snow and ice helps all pedestrians, not only those with disabilities.

Grawi said that some residents are unable to remove the snow themselves. She said snow-filled driveways and walkways can prevent paratransit vehicles from picking up clients with disabilities. She urged those who need help with snow removal to contact their local sheriff's department, area agencies on aging, and local community and church groups.

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newroom