Although the weather appears to be getting warmer now, at the time of this article’s writing, we experienced a huge cold rush where the temperature plummeted to below zero. Late last year we had the opportunity to sit down and interview Arne Andres, a patient-researcher who was involved in the beginning stages of Click&Push Accessibility (see below), to share his perspective and his well seasoned tips on using a mobility device around Edmonton during the winter months.
Arne is a power chair user and occasionally uses a scooter, but only when he is accompanied by somebody else as he feels safer this way.
What has been your experience getting around Edmonton generally ?
During summer months it is easier as I can take the bus, train, and use my own van with my scooter at least. However, my power chair is unable to enter my van so I can’t use my power chair with my van. I prefer the power chair to the scooter as the scooter can tilt at higher speeds and be a little dangerous. But the positive of the scooter is that I can use it with my van and I do not have to wait for public transport. It creates some freedom even though it may not be as safe to use.
What has been your experience specifically with getting around Edmonton during winter?
In the winter I can only use my power chair for safety reasons and have to schedule a pick-up with Disabled Adults Transport Service (DATS) maybe about two days before I plan to go out. It’s a shared ride so it involves a little bit of waiting which is pretty horrendous during winter. You can’t leave your pick-up position because the drivers are only able to stay for about 5 mins or so. There is about an hour wait after calling to book a ride also. It can be quite terrible. I prefer driving with my van but I’d need to be with someone to be able to use my scooter due to the safety issues but I am at least able to use it with my van.
Physically on the roads, how are you able to move around on the pavements and sidewalks?
During the summer months I am able to use my power chair and my scooter. During winter I have to use my power chair but there can be issues with the wheels of the power chair because of the snow. Some of the sidewalks are left unshoveled and that causes me to change my route and means I’d have to find another way or another route to take. Usually power chairs have small wheels and are not the best on snow. Manual wheelchairs tend to have bigger wheels and with someone there to assist me it helps with getting through the snow.
What is your routine for getting out on the road in winter?
I tend to leave the house in the afternoons and I call about 1-2 days before to book my DATS. I usually use their service when I’m going to the U of A to take part in the focus group sessions on Jasper Ave and at the North Campus, or when I go swimming and to the gym for exercises.
How are you able to navigate yourself on your trips using DATS?
The wheels on a power chair are small and cannot go through the snow, they can only be used on shovelled sidewalks. Sidewalks aren’t always shovelled so that means sometime I’d have to turn back and find a different route if that path isn’t cleared. Most power chairs, and not just my chair model, have smaller wheels and usually are not good on snow. Manual wheelchairs tend to have bigger wheels as these can sometimes be pushed by someone. Another issue is getting stuck in the snow and having to wait for people to come by and help push. I always ensure I go to a public place and do not use back alleys but always ensure high visibility. Ensure the power chairs are fully charged the night before so the power chair doesn’t die out. Even if I bring the charger with me outside I cannot plug it in myself and would have to ask for assistance. With COVID the DATS scheduling is affected as well.
What would you do when the power chair dies?
I haven’t experienced that yet as I tend to try to always remember to plug it in! That is a scary thought especially in -30 Edmontonian weather!
What would be your tips and advice for a new or first-time power chair user?
To get through winter in the safest most efficient way possible do not go to places that are deserted. Try and go to places that have people and there can be high visibility for you and your chair. Usually best to go to malls when you are by yourself. Be aware and alert while in parking lots to ensure drivers can see you. For first time users I would encourage you to travel with someone usually a care-giver
Some lasting tips and advice
Try and personalise your power chair to yourself as much as you can. For me I am looking to create storage places for my coffee and finding suitable devices to carry my utilities and devices for me while I wait for DATS to engage myself during the waiting periods. I am able to do a little bit of work while on the road and keep an eye on the things I process in the morning at my work station before leaving the house. When I go out I wear a diaper so I am able to pee as some places may not have accessible washrooms or the washrooms may not be working so i have to think ahead. I plan myself to be out for 4-5 hours and no more than that especially as it’s getting darker and I have to consider the weather as I do not want to have issues with visibility.