WATCH: Mark Carcasole talks to one woman who uses a wheelchair about the struggles of her winter commute.
TORONTO – Ayesha Zubair, like many Torontonians, gets ready for work around 7:30 a.m. But the parka she wears to keep warm is specially made with minimal backing to fit her properly in her wheelchair.
“I think it’s stuck on my chair,” she said to her friend assisting her.
She adds a scarf to the ensemble. While most people tackle this weather in four or five layers. Zubair has to be a bit more cautious.
“I can’t always layer as much as I want because it starts affecting my upper body and how much I move,” she said.
Zubair lives with spinal muscular atrophy, so any restriction of movement is a major concern. If it gets too cold, she sometimes has to stay home and work from there to avoid heading out underdressed.
Zubair is an adult example of the findings in a recent study by scientists at the Bloorview Research Institute. Over the course of two-weeks, they had both able-bodied and disabled youths keep journals, tracking the weather and their day-to-day comings and goings.
The report, released in December, found those in the latter category face greater challenges going outside and getting around during the winter. That difficulty can sometimes lead to loneliness.
“Some (disabled) youth would display really good resilience in terms of being able to go out in the winter,” says researcher Dr. Sally Lindsay. “They’ve developed mechanisms such as wheelchair maintenance…and also planning out your route in advance. Knowing where you’re going to go and making sure that that’s probably a route where the sidewalks will be plowed and there will be accessible transportation.”
Dr. Lindsay says the constant planning can lead to in increased dependence on friends and family.
“They’re often able to go out fine and independent in the summer time, but in the winter time they always have to have someone with them for safety reasons.”
Lindsay says other research has shown that can extreme cases can lead to feelings of depression.
Ayesha always goes to work alone. Global News joined her on her commute Wednesday morning. In a 10-minute trek from her home to a nearby GO Station, one could clearly see another problem she frequently encounters: her wheels struggling to find grip in the slush. She says her wheelchair will seize in a couple centimeters of snow. During our journey she pointed at unplowed sidewalks, covered in snow.
“That’s when I have to use the road,” she said as she travelled along a traffic lane on a residential street. “There’s no way I can get through there.”
Zubair says she’ll often “buddy” with other riders on the GO Train, some of whom are also disabled, to help each other get around the crowded morning platform.
Having wound through the human obstacle course at Union Station, over the Skywalk and back outside, Ayesha makes it to work without many winter-related issues this time; aside from one curb cut at the end of a crosswalk blocked partially by a snowbank.
In the end, she’s not looking for sympathy by telling her story, just to create some awareness of an issue that makes winter harder than usual for some.
“Everything so easily becomes a barrier that it’s kinda scary and intimidating to do this on your own sometimes.”