Living on the lakeshore has made us hearty. Lake Michigan is not just our summer friend. The beauty of a freshly fallen blanket of snow makes us sigh as deeply as the next guy.
Yet, wouldn’t you squeal with delight if you thought you could get through the remainder of epic winter 2014 without seeing another snowflake?
For people who use manual wheelchairs, snow is a pain – literally.
Propelling a wheelchair through a few inches of snow multiplies the physical exertion required, and makes steering almost impossible.
And, as you know, the lakeshore has been blanketed under more than a few inches of snow since Thanksgiving. Factor in the “polar vortex” of wind and bitter cold and, well, it’s enough to keep even adventurous users in wheelchairs indoors.
It may have been winter’s housebound who started the Facebook page, “Hating winter because the snow gets stuck in our wheelchair tires!!!“
Crying on Facebook doesn’t move the snow, but there’s no harm venting frustration among “friends” who know how hard it is to keep your life rolling when your front caster wheels are buried in snow.
That’s why, if you have to park your car in a lot that hasn’t been plowed – or the lot has been plowed but the snow has been pushed into a mountain covering accessible parking – you owe it to yourself and others to have a word with the business owner.
Owners may not realize that a person using a wheelchair has to tip the chair back and balance using only its big wheels to navigate deep or mounded snow. Requiring people to “do wheelies” is not safe – or good business.
It’s a business owner’s responsibility to make a reasonable effort to keep accessible parking clear.
Even when lots and walkways are plowed, expect even short errands during winter to require more muscle and time than usual.
And because it will likely take a person using a wheelchair longer to get inside, it’s especially important to do the things that protect against frostbite – a real condition that can cause permanent damage to the skin.
Carry a mobile phone and don’t hesitate to use it to summon help, if needed.
Keep your head and ears covered.
Keep your hands covered, remembering that mittens keep you warmer than gloves.
Dress in layers. (The air between the layers provides insulation!)
If cold weather leaves exposed skin red and tingly, it’s probably “frost nip.” Slowly warm the skin under warm (not hot) running water, then avoid going out again for a day or so.
Drink plenty of water. Cold weather dries out your skin, making it more vulnerable to frostbite.
Smoking, which causes nasal constriction, makes you more susceptible to frostbite.
There are cool inventions to help people in wheelchairs stay active outdoors in winter, but they can be pricey.
You can equip your chair with winter wheels that are not unlike nubby mountain bike tires.
FreeWheel is an attachment that can be clamped to the front of a manual chair, lifting the little caster wheels up and stabilizing the chair with one larger, thicker wheel. Great gizmo but it costs almost $600.
There’s also a contraption called Wheelblades – small skis that attach to the front wheels so they glide across the snow, rather than sinking into it. Size of dent in wallet: About $350.
OK fellow people in wheelchairs. Share your strategies. What do you do to keep active and get out and about when you need to in the winter?