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Navigating Obstacles For Wheelchair Users

When snow piles up, property owners don’t always shovel their sidewalks, and that can make it nearly impossible for some people to get around safely, especially those who use a wheelchair or have problem vision.

Kelly Buckland knows what it’s like to try to make it along winter sidewalks and roads. He broke his neck in a diving accident when he was 16 in Idaho, and has been using a wheelchair ever since. He also knows what it’s like to advocate and lobby to improve conditions for people with disabilities.

Buckland, who is executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the struggles disabled people face in the winter months.

We also hear a piece by Ryan Weber of Illinois Public Media. He reports on how disabled residents are faring in the Urbana-Champaign area, where more than 38 inches of snow have fallen this winter. Read a transcript of his story here.

Interview Highlights: Kelly Buckland

On legal requirements to clear snow 

“There are jurisdictions that don’t have such a requirement. Like, for instance, D.C. has the requirement. Bethesda, Maryland has the requirement. Fairfax County, Virginia does not. So they sort of leave it to people’s honor about doing their sidewalks, and of course, some people do and some people don’t. There’s a thing on the books, but there’s not too much enforcement of that.”

“There is, actually, a requirement in the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s called the Maintenance of Accessible Features, so it requires that, if you have accessible features, which you’re required to by the ADA, then you also have a requirement to maintain those accessible features.”

Why sidewalks don’t always get cleared

“Once you get big snowstorms like that, most people are busy out clearing streets and trying to get people back on the road. And so, when it comes to keeping the sidewalks and that stuff usable by people in wheelchairs, that’s unfortunately one of the last things they get around to.”

“Be neighborly. Go out and shovel your sidewalks.”


  • Ryan Weber, intern at Illinois Public Media and student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He tweets @ryanjweber.


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