Part of a Whole

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

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Ten Years Ago, A Snow Storm

Ten years ago, I was still digging myself out of a snow bank. January 1999, Chicago – The second worst blizzard to hit Chicago in the 20th century. My late wife and I lived in a 1 bedroom appartment on the ground floor of an older building. Our only exit was piled high with snow. I’m so glad not to be subjected to such snow falls now!

Both my late wife and I were wheelchair users. The building was old and we couldn’t use the main entrance to get in and out of the place, due to a step and double doors that were not manageable from a chair. So we used the patio door, which gave right into the parking lot. Never was a problem, even in winter. Until early January 1999…

We noticed a solid snowfall early in the evening. Before going to bed, we looked again and the snow was falling hard. We were a bit concerned, but not overly.

Photo of snow falling at night
This is what the snow fall looked like the night before!

We woke up to total silence. If you’ve experienced major snowfalls, you’ll know the kind of silence I mean. Like everything is muffled. I went to the door to see what kind of damage we were experiencing. I opened the vertical blinds and saw nothing. Or rather, I saw white’ish / blue’ish grey, nearly all the way to the top of the patio door. there was about a foot of daylight streaming in at the top of the door. Everything else was covered in snow! I think I swore. Then we laughed, nearly hysterically.

Between the large snowfall and the strong winds, the snow had eddied and piled up against our door. Snowdrifts are a killer. I carefully slid the door open. I poked top of the drift with a broom, and I was glad that it fell away quite easily. I managed to push enough snow off the top to get an idea of what was in store. And that was scary. The car was completely covered. We could barely tell there was a car under the snow – it was a large undescribable mound of snow.

Keep in mind, I had to keep the door opened in order to start digging out. Hence the entire appartment got cold! I suited up with all my winter gear and began to open a space large enough for me to get out of the door and shut it behind me.

Now is time to mention that we didn’t own a shovel at the time…

I used a transfer board to shove snow out of the way. Transfer boards are planks of wood and/or laminate that help wheelchair users transfer from wheelchair to bed, or car. You put one end on the surface you’re aiming for, and the other edge wedged against your chair. Then you can slide on it. The idea is that you don’t have to support your own weight on your arms, the board supports you.

Photo of a snow shovel and a transfer board
A proper snow shovel on the left, a transfer board on the right. Which would you prefer to shovel snow?
(shovel photo courtesy of Clark K3nt under Creative Commons License).

After a while, I was able to slide the door shut. I kept clearing a path. It was slow going. At one point a neighbour cleared his car with a shovel. I asked him to loan me the shovel when he was done. HE REFUSED!!! He said that I might hurt myself… Picture this: A guy in a wheelchair digging himself out slowly with a short piece of wood (not much better than using hands, really), and a solidly build guy refusing to loan his shovel because the wheelchair user might get hurt! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s better to let the wheelchair user carry on shoveling snow with a transfer board than loan him a shovel. And he didn’t even offer to help with clearing some of the snow out!

I wondered what the point of digging a path to the parking lot was, as the snow plow hadn’t come. And from the parking lot, I couldn’t use the sidewalks either. But it had to be done sooner than later. The weather wasn’t particularly cold, and the snow was wet and heavy. Left there, it could freeze in a big mass of ice, and then I’d be in trouble! I got through in the end. Without a shovel, even.

We were housebound for three days. It was good to have Peapod available.

The one frustrating memory is that none of our neigbours offered to help. None of them checked in to see if we were ok, or needed anything. Yet they were the first to line up to see what was cooking when my late wife was cooking BBQ in the parking lot in summer time. Aaahhh, human nature…

At least, it is unlikely that I’ll face that kind of snowfall where I live now :)

3 thoughts on “Ten Years Ago, A Snow Storm

  1. What a story – at many levels. I don’t understand how people could not even ask how you were doing – or that the guy couldn’t offer help in any way. How do they sleep at night? I really don’t understand it.

  2. Wow, what a crazy story lol that one guy was dumb for not helping. I remember that blizzard well. In Rantoul, we had a parking lot next to our house and when the bulldozers piled the snow up into huge hills, I pretty much made a muli-level snow fort lol. I would of built an elevator if i could, but instead I settled for stairs :P

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