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Winter Safety Tips for People with Disabilities

A landscape of snow

Winter weather brings with it safety hazards for people with disabilities. Inaccessible walkways and freezing temperatures are two of the most common obstacles, but there are many other challenges that require careful planning and consideration.

We talked to people with disabilities and got their expert tried-and-true tips to take on winter weather. Have any advice of your own to share? Leave them in the comments section below.

1. Consider your wardrobe

Subzero temperatures, inches (or feet) of snow, and blasts of wind can lead to accidents, injury, and/or illness. When preparing your winter wardrobe, make sure you’re adding these pieces to your daily rotation:

Outerwear

Our blogger, Beth Finke, who is blind, suggests investing in a coat with a good hood on it. “If you can’t see well then you need to be able to listen at intersections and the like. Hoods are easier to flip on and off than hats,” she said. Also make sure that your coat is suitable for the winter conditions specific to your location.

Footwear

Invest in snow boots with good tread and insulation to keep your feet warm and to prevent slipping. Beth also recommends buying a good pair of cleats that you can attach to boots (available at outdoor and recreation stores like REI and Lands’ End). Beth says: “They’re cumbersome because you have to take them off the minute you get back inside, but worth it to prevent slipping on ice.”

Gloves

Protect your hands with a good pair of gloves. “Find warm gloves with thinner material at the fingertips – they’re intended for people who like to text, but they’re handy for those of us who can’t see well and need our sense of touch to find surfaces like keyholes, handles to the doors of cars, the buckle for your service dog’s harness, and so on,” Beth says.

2. Think of your wheelchair like your car

This tip comes from Phyllis Buchanan, who uses a power wheelchair. Phyllis says that she likes to think of her wheelchair like a car, especially in the winter season. This means making sure everything is tuned up, charged, and ready for the possible rough terrain ahead.

Phyllis also suggests having an emergency kit in case you become stuck in hazardous conditions. Some items to have on hand include a protein bar, bottled water, hand warmers, and kitty litter to use for traction.

She adds that wheelchair users should consider buying an all-weather poncho that is spacious enough to fit over you and your chair. These can be found at any camping supply store.

Wheelchair users may want to consider outfitting their wheelchairs with snow tires to prepare for the icy conditions. If you’re seeking financial assistance or a grant to make sure your wheelchair is winter-ready, consider reaching out to your local Easterseals for advice. Also check out these tips for applying for grants.

3. Check your smoke alarms and CO2 detectors

Erin Hawley of Easterseals Thrive stresses the importance of ensuring your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries and are in working order.

“You’re more at risk for fires and carbon monoxide poisoning in the winter, so make sure you have a safety plan in place. If you’re burning candles or have a fireplace, make sure they are out before going to bed,” Erin says.

Learn more about smoke detectors from the U.S. Fire Administration and carbon monoxide detectors at the National Safety Council.

4. In case of emergency, have these plans in place:

Some areas of the country may expect strong snowstorms, which can cause power outages.

Be prepared for emergencies with these crucial tips:

5. Make staying warm a priority

While this may seem repetitive (see: tip #1), it is important to make sure you’re warm indoors and outdoors.

Says Erin: “I have circulation problems in my feet, so I buy hand warmers and stick them in my shoes (with socks on, don’t put on direct skin). I also use them as they were meant, for my hands. It helps so much, and they can last up to 8 hours. They can be costly, but Amazon has the best prices.”

6. Make sure your dog is ready, too

Seeing Eye and service dogs need to be prepared for winter weather conditions to ensure their safety and comfort.

Beth, who has a Seeing Eye dog named Whitney, advises others with dogs to avoid driveways, roads, and sidewalks where salt has been used to melt ice, as this is one of the biggest threats to healthy paw pads.

She shared that because she cannot see whether salt is present or not, she makes sure she puts a paw wax like “Musher’s Secret” on Whitney’s paws before going on walks to form a protective barrier between the paw and pavement. Beth emphasizes that paw wax should be reapplied before every walk.

Another option to protect paws is weather boots.

Read more about snow removal and accessibility on our blog

Check out Project Action for more information about accessible travel

Contact your local Easterseals for more info on winter safety

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