Days after initial snow, sidewalks issues plague wheelchair users

The snow began falling in most of Puget Sound the day after Christmas, but a few days removed snow and ice continue to block access for people in wheelchairs.

"I absolutely dread the snow," said Krystal Monteros, from her Tacoma apartment. "My caregiver even planned ahead of time when she was able to come up. She planned ahead of time with extra meals and stuff, because she knew I wouldn’t be able to transport back and forth."

Monteros, who serves as president of the Tacoma Area Commission on Disabilities, said the frustrations began even before the snow fell. Once forecasters began to discuss snow, she and her friends that are in wheelchairs were already texting.

"I wasn’t looking forward to it," she said.

For Monteros the issue is her apartment complex. While she’s raised concerns about her inability to get more than a foot or two away from her building, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

Monteros said she’s raised concerns with the city, the complex – really, anyone who will listen. Since it’s private property, the issue only goes so far.

"I’m smiling a lot, but I’m to the point where I’m smiling because I get so mad at the situation," she said. "I’m smiling just to get myself through it. I get mad because I have spoken up. I’ve spoken up plenty of times. It feels like nothing ever happens."

In Seattle, the same snow storm causes issues for people in wheelchairs, and those who are blind.

Back in 2019 SDOT worked with ‘Rooted in Rights’ to create an educational campaign that highlighted people who were essentially trapped inside due to snow, and a lack of clear pathways throughout the city.

According to law, it’s the property owner’s job to clear a sidewalk. SDOT has worked with dozens of community groups to get out more than 20-thousand brochures with that information.

A spokesperson told FOX 13 News that the "educational materials empathize that this isn’t just the law, it’s also the right thing to do and especially important for people who are blind, disabled, or have a harder time getting around."

Some – like attorney Conrad Reynoldson – say the city’s approach isn’t enough.

"They need to stop passing it off on other people, and basically take a roll in this," said Reynoldson. "Not just say, ‘Be kind to your neighbors,’ because, some people – like myself – obviously, physically can not do that."

Reynoldson uses a motorized wheelchair, which means he has a better chance to get around than those with a manual wheelchair. Despite that, he’s been stuck inside for days at a time during some of Seattle’s larger storms – this week, his van has been his lifeline though he said a little more snow would mean he couldn’t access it either.

"The snow is beautiful to look at, but otherwise I dread it – It’s going to be challenging to get around, and basically unless I can get there safely in my van I can’t go anywhere."

Reynoldson said he thinks it’s an issue about awareness. He wishes more people would consider the shape their sidewalk is in, and how someone in a wheelchair would navigate around it.

In the meantime, he said anyone in a wheelchair is thinking about it daily – once the snow is in the forecast it’s a matter of planning travel between every block. Even if you can make it onto public transportation there’s a fear over where they’ll unload passengers. 

"You don’t know whether there is going to be snow there blocking it," said Reynoldson. "Often times, people have to go in the streets which can be hazardous."

RELATED: WSP responded to nearly 280 crashes in King County since snow storm

FULL FORECAST: The brutal cold continues through the week

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