Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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First Snow of the Season

What an adventure! We experienced the first snowfall of the season in Montréal today. I heard the snowplows and salt trucks clearing the way outside, so decided to venture out. I’m glad I got myself some good aggressive tyres for my wheelchair – I couldn’t have gone anywhere.

New Knobby Tyres

Yesterday, knowing this snow was about to hit, I went looking for "snow tyres". It’s impossible to find wheelchair tyres with sufficiently aggressive tread to deal with any kind of snow, so I went to the bicycle shop and got some nice "knobbies".

Close up of a wheelchair tyre.

Some snow remains stuck in the aggressive tread of my tyres

Curb Cuts

The city did clear the sidewalks, and the streets. But the curb cuts, well, that’s another story. Some street crossings are simply not passable. This is true for wheelchair users, but also parents pushing prams, or our elders trying to navigate the slippery streets with a cane or a crutch.

Wheelchair user in front of a mound of snow at a street crossing

Not even with my new tyres can I successfuly attempt crossing the street here.

On most street corners, it’s impossible to tell what kind of shape the curb cut is in. I know from using them before this snowfall that a lot of them have abrupt changes in levels, or big gaping holes.

A curb cut covered by snow, slush and water

Are there holes under all the mess of water, slush and snow at this curb cut?

How would my blind mates get on, I wonder?

Curb cut hidden under snow left from a snowplow

I can’t even tell where the curb cut actually is!

Then there’s all the recycling and rubbish bins left. The guys doing the rubbish collection tend to leave the bins right in the middle of the path. This can be worked around when there’s no snow, but in winter, there’s nowhere to go if you want to get around the bins!

Rubbish Bin cluttering the sidewalk.

It only takes one large rubbish bin, and snow on the sidewalk and the garage entrance, and suddenly, you can’t get through.


Then of course there are the sidewalks themselves. Some were cleared nicely. Salt was spread generously last week so that helps. But in other places, the snow wasn’t cleared to the ground. What’s left is a compact slurry of slush that piles under foot, or under wheels and even with aggressive tyres, you lose all traction going up or down.

A layer of compacted slush covers a sidewalk

I had very little control going down this sidewalk.

Other sidewalks weren’t cleared so well.

Sidewalk with large chunks of compacted snow.

Here, not only the accumulated snow, but big chucks of snow thrown from the snow plow make it impassable.

Sidewalk hidden under water, snow and slush

You can’t even tell where the sidewalks starts and the street begins.

Getting colder

And tonight, the temperature is going to drop. Which means all this lovely slush will turn into ice. And then no amount of grating or snow plowing will make much of a difference. We’ll be stuck with this until the next thaw. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the city is clearing the sidewalks. I just wish they did a better job of it.