Submitted by: Terri Wallis, Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO) Campaigns Committee Member
To the City of Hamilton Councillors and General Issues Committee (GIC):
My name is Terri Wallace. I am a Disability Rights Activist and a Community Activist as well as an artist. I have multiple disabilities both visible and invisible. I have dedicated my life to doing my best to help others with disabilities because when you make life better for people with disabilities you also make life better for their families, friends, co workers, classmates and everyone else around them. Please accept my following testimony regarding the dangers of uncleared sidewalks in Hamilton Ontario.
Winter can be a difficult time for everyone, but for people with disabilities it can be extremely dangerous. There have been many times that my life has been put in jeopardy due to issues regarding snow removal. For those of us who use mobility devices to get around, a snowfall means we will be trapped in our homes for several days and if we do have to go out using sidewalks is out of the question. We are almost always forced to wheel on the road or in bike lanes because the sidewalks are never cleared sufficiently for our mobility device. For someone with a mobility device to be able to use a sidewalk the entire sidewalk and the curb cut must be clear of snow and ice. It takes only a very small amount of snow for a wheelchair to become stuck, and once that happens it is almost impossible for us to free ourselves without help. This experience is always very frustrating and upsetting and can very easily result in a medical emergency. Many of us with disabilities are very susceptible to the cold and hypothermia can easily result depending on the temperature, weather conditions, your location and the time of day as well as the traffic in the area. Being stuck and completely helpless is a terrible feeling. You have absolutely no shelter and have to wait for someone to come by who is able and willing to help you and unfortunately that's not everybody. Even when put in manual it takes a lot of strength to free a 300 pound power wheelchair from even the smallest amount of snow or ice.
I went through this last week on Upper James. It took a Police officer and an HSR driver to free me. The only reason I found myself in this situation was because the bus stop I wanted to get was not available because the curb cut to the sidewalk wasn't clear and the snow along the curb of the entire bus stop wasn't clear so there was no place for the driver to lower the ramp. I had no choice but to head down to the next stop which was a fair distance away. There was a small section of the sidewalk that wasn’t clear ahead of me. I couldn't go back and wheel on the road because of the amount of traffic and lack of room so I had to go forward. It wasn't too much snow but it was enough for me to become stuck. We can't get out of our chairs so we are helpless until someone comes to our aid.
Imagine what this can be like for someone and then try to imagine how much worse it would be for someone with mental health issues as well. This section of sidewalk was the City's responsibility and it had been several days since the last snowfall so there is no excuse for this sidewalk to not have been cleared. Does anyone check to make sure that the people hired to do this job are actually doing their job. Every time I leave my home I have to wheel on the road because the sidewalks and curb cuts on my street are never cleared. There is a vacant lot on Market Street near Caroline that doesn't seem to be anyone's responsibility to clear which means that sidewalk is never useable. Last winter I was forced to wheel on King Street near Queen and was run into a snowbank by a car whose driver thought it would be fun to play chicken with someone in a wheelchair. I was in a bus stop lane at the time so this was no accident. Imagine if you were visually impaired and couldn't see that the sidewalks had areas of snow or ice that hadn't been cleared of if the curb cut hadn't been shoveled.
It doesn't matter what type of disability you have if the sidewalks are not cleared properly not only are you being greatly and unfairly inconvenienced, your life is being put in danger. Everyone needs to be educated about this including residents, City staff, and those employees of snow removal companies who are responsible for keeping our sidewalks safe. There are many ways that this can be done but it must be done but it must be done before someone needlessly loses their life due to inadequate snow removal. When you have a disability everything that allows you to live your life comes down to money. Accessibility is always a question of money, whether we receive the equipment we rely on to live comes down to money and snow removal costs money. It's very sad when our very lives and our life and death are reduced to nothing but how much it costs and I really hope that today you will thick of us as Human Beings and not just another expense. Thank you for listening.
Campaigns Committee Member
Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO)
About Terri Wallis:
I am a Disability Rights Activist and a Community Activist as well as an artist. I have multiple disabilities both visible and invisible. I have dedicated my life to doing my best to help others with disabilities because when you make life better for people with disabilities you also make life better for their families, friends, co workers, classmates and everyone else around them. Disability will effect everyone either directly or indirectly at some point in their life. Of you aren't born with a disability and avoid acquiring one through accident or illness then as you age you are very likely to develop some type of disability. It isn't something that happens to someone else, it happens to everyone. I feel that raising public awareness with regards to discrimination against people with disabilities is extremely important and helping people understand that inaccessibility is a form of discrimination is an important next step in achieving equality and freedom and acceptance for those with disabilities. I have been on the City's Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities for the past 12 years ,a member of the Metrolinx Accessibility Advisory Committee for 11 years, former Chair of the Jamesville Hub, former member of the Ontario BIA Accessibility Advisory Committee, Vice Chair of Pride Hamilton, Board member of Rainbow Mentors, member of the Hamilton Centre NDP riding association, Artist and Creator behind ZombieArt by Terri and much more. I have lived in Hamilton since September 2000 and ran for City Council in 2014 finishing 2nd behind Jason Farr.