Some of Victoria’s vision-impaired say not enough is being done to keep the sidewalks safe during snowy weather.
Heather Valade, a student at a Victoria-based training centre for the blind, said finding curbs downtown has been next to impossible during the snowy weather.
“That’s where I was struggling the most, was to find where the sidewalk goes out into the street,” she said.
On Thursday, Valade found almost every corner in downtown Victoria to be buried under snow – a serious hazard for vision or mobility impaired pedestrians, she says.
Instructor TJ Evans agreed.
“You have to take twice to three times as long analyzing an area and exploring, which is normal in our everyday life but it’s just that much more involved,” he said. “The normal areas you would use to align yourself with the crosswalk are altered by a good foot or more of snow. In some ways, it’s almost impossible to find the curb because the snow has not been cleared.”
The City of Victoria’s Streets and Traffic Bylaw requires business owners and land occupiers to clear snow from sidewalks fronting their property by 10 a.m. each day – but it doesn’t specify if that includes curbs.
City crews are responsible for clearing downtown transit stops as well as downtown wheelchair ramps.
Evans said snow can create other challenges for vision-impaired people by burying familiar landmarks.
“You travel a lot slower, even [slower] than you normally would,” he said. “There’s a different way you have to use your cane. You almost have to use your cane in a probing fashion.”
Evans said auditory perception is also altered by snowy weather.
“The snow itself changes the sound,” he said, explaining that for those with good hearing, “sound resonance” is an important part of navigation.
“In some ways [snow] will superimpose the sound, other times it will blanket the sound.”
Evans said many of the city’s vision-impaired are independent and frequently problem solve challenges such as snow or rain – but if someone is struggling, he appreciates those who ask if they can help.
The key is asking first.
“We’ve had people all of a sudden up and grab us, that’s not helpful, it’s actually just dangerous,” he said. “The best thing to do is to ask the person’s permission or ask them if they need a hand. Have that verbal communication.”