Archive for February, 2016

A Snowy Miracle

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

A small miracle happened today. We had a massive snow storm—about 18 inches in fewer than 18 hours. It fell fast enough to close down most of Rochester—which is no small feat. And when the town snow plow came by, it left NO SNOW in our driveway. That’s right. NONE.

Look! No snow dumped in our driveway!

We happened to be outside when the plow came by. The plow driver slowed to a stop, rolled her window down and said, “I’ve heard about your situation. We’re going to try something different today.”

Here’s what she did. About 20 feet before our driveway, she raised the plow off the ground, which caused all of the snow the plow was pushing to fall into the street. She then lowered the plow again as she reached our driveway, continuing to plow. She then turned around to plow the other side of the street, and when she reached the area where she had let the snow fall into the street, she drove into that side of the street and pushed the snow into our yard. Then backed up the 20 feet and continued on her way.

So a pile of snow sat in the road, on one side of the road, for about three minutes until she got to her turn-around point and came back. The maneuver of pushing the snow into our yard and then reversing to continue the usual route took about 30 extra seconds than the usual method of plowing.

30 SECONDS. Yep. For five years we have been told that there is nothing that could be done. This woman solved the problem in 30 seconds. And she was friendly, and kind—and she had been up since 2:00 am! She performed this maneuver at around 11:00 am, and again around 3:30 in the afternoon.

I will still meet with the town supervisor so we can firm up a long term plan. But it seems to me this amazing woman showed us today just what the long term plan could be. Thank you plow #56 driver!

David, Oscar, and I are truly grateful for the outpouring of support that arose from the initial blog post regarding the snow plow issue. I really had written the post to vent, in order to be able to fall asleep that night. The ensuing ideas and offers of help were amazing. We shouldn’t need an army of support to deal with accessibility issues, but we are deeply grateful we have one. Thank you for helping make accessibility a priority—for all people, not just for Oscar!

Oscar prepared for sledding this afternoon!

Oscar and David cruising through our yard!

Town Snow Plow, Meet Dragon Mama

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

We live on a corner. Not a sharp city corner with curbs, but a soft suburban corner. When the snow plow comes though our neighborhood, it comes around the corner, picking up loads of snow as it goes and by the time it gets to our driveway, it dumps an inordinate amount of snow at the foot of our driveway.

What is inordinate, you might ask. Well, just about every time the snow plow goes past our house, we have a minimum of a foot of snow at the base of our driveway, whether we’ve had 8 inches of snow, or 3. There was the time we had a big snow fall one day. So big that the plow needed to come back the next day to really clean up the roads. On this second day, absolutely no snow had fallen. Yet we had a bank 18 inches deep blocking our driveway. And I don’t mean that there is a foot or more of snow at the base of our driveway that starts at the street and goes back into our driveway a foot or two. The snow that the plow dumps is usually six to eight feet wide from the street into our driveway. Sure it tapers off slowly, but the plow is dumping massive amounts of snow into our driveway.

This year we’ve hardly had any snow. The plow has only buried us in twice so far—twice in the same day, mind you. It had begun snowing overnight and snowed a good bit, 4-6 inches, probably. That morning it probably took David only 35 to 40 minutes to shovel us out. We have a double wide driveway, so just clearing the driveway takes a bit. On that morning, because the snow was so light—the kind that just lifts off the ground and floats into the air if you gently poke it with the shovel—what had fallen into the driveway was easy to move, and probably took no more than 20 minutes to clear. But still, what the town had dumped, took another 20 easily. It continued to snow throughout the day. By the time I arrived home at three that afternoon to meet Oscar’s bus, there was another three inches that had fallen. No big deal. Except I couldn’t pull our van into the driveway because there was another foot of snow dumped by the town. I pulled into the neighbor’s driveway and made my way to our shovel. It took me about 15 minutes to clear enough of a path to pull our van in. Then I set to work on the rest of the foot of the driveway so that when Oscar’s bus arrived he’d be able to access our house. His chair can handle three inches of snow. As can our van, which is quite low to the ground, because of the accessibility modification. Neither can even think about handling a foot of snow. Had I not arrived home a bit early that day, Oscar would have been stuck in the street, completely unable to access his own home.

Each time I am surprised by the volume of snow dumped into our driveway. And each time I look closely at our neighbors’ driveways, in case I have forgotten that this is just how it works, and everyone has this much snow. Nope. Never. We consistently have snow that is at least two to three times as deep as what is in our neighbors’ driveways. And the volume of snow—the cubic feet that have been dumped—is easily a minimum of four to six times as much as any of our neighbors.

Over the years, we have called to complain. We might get the dispatcher on the phone, telling us there is nothing he can do. Telling us that this is Rochester, this is winter, we should be used to it. Once I was even asked if I had called my snow plow guy. My snow plow guy?! You mean my husband and the shovel sitting just outside our front door? David and I have each taken turns trying to calmly explain our situation—young child, wheelchair, low-to-the-ground accessible vehicle, inordinate amounts of snow. We have each taken our turn coming to a boil and eventually yelling on the phone when we weren’t listened to. And a couple of times we have even managed to get the town to bring a small truck out to clear the mess they have left at the foot of our driveway. But the two or three times they have ever done this, it has been begrudgingly, and with warning that it would probably not happen again.

So last year, toward the end of the season, when we’d had enough after a winter of heavy snowfall, I took a different tactic. I called the town, not in the midst of a crisis, and found a higher-up in the highway department to talk with. I scheduled a meeting. I brought photographs of the end of our driveway, and the end of a neighbor’s driveway, taken at the same time, after the plow had been by. He mostly listened to my case, sometimes talked over me, and then basically told me he was sympathetic to my situation but that there was really nothing he could do. He could ask his drivers to pay attention as they pass our property, but because we live on a corner, there isn’t much that could change. It is the town’s job to clear the public roads, not private property. He said I could email him if I had any further questions or concerns during the snowy season. I felt wholly unsatisfied. But I left it at that as the season was almost to a close and the winter had exhausted me.

This year, when we had our first snow fall, I spoke with Oscar’s school psychologist who is a wonderful ally and advocate for all kids, and has especially been so for Oscar and our family. He has gone to bat for us with school transportation issues we’ve had in the past. Maybe we could come at this from the angle of the town creating a barricade for school transportation. He suggested I start by calling the town supervisor’s office directly. So I left a message. And didn’t hear anything back. So I tried again. Eventually I got the assistant to the supervisor on the phone. She listened and said she’d have the _______ (name of position within the town) get back to me right away. After I hung up the phone I realized the name of the position she mentioned was actually the person I had had the face-to-face meeting with the previous winter. I called back and said no thank you. Said that he had told me he could do nothing for me. It’s time to take this to the next level. She said someone from the supervisor’s office would contact me. Radio silence for a couple of weeks.

This morning I called again, and left another message. This afternoon I received a message back, from the same person I had had the meeting with last year. He said he was eager to talk with me, as he had spoken with someone at the Center for Disability Rights, and had new information to share with me. I knew what this meant. I could hear it in the tone of his voice, in the words he chose to use in the message. He was going to prove to me he didn’t have to help me. To help us, our family, our child who uses a wheelchair and who is being denied access to his own home by the amount of snow the town dumps in our driveway. Sure enough. When I called back he let me know he’d had a lengthy conversation with someone at the Center for Disability Rights and that after relaying the situation to her, she did agree that it was not within the town’s jurisdiction to take care of personal property. There was just the slightest hint of pride in his voice. That he was right. He said he was not unsympathetic. But in fact his message was exactly that. There was nothing he could do and he was not legally obligated to do anything. Never mind that a resident of the town for which he works has a problem that needs help from the town to solve said problem. Never mind that his own department in the town is creating a barrier for a child in a wheelchair to access his own home, or access his school bus. Nope. There is a problem and he is not legally obligated to help solve that problem.

Now I can only imagine what story he told the Center for Disability Rights. Because one solution they discussed together was having someone who could ride the bus with Oscar who could help him access the school bus in the morning or his home at the end of the day. Hmmm…so the school district (linked financially to the town) would pay someone who could step off the bus and spend a bare minimum of 20 minutes, but probably more like 30—while the bus full of children waits—clearing the snow the town dumped in our driveway. There just happens to be a shoveler for hire who can hop on that bus any day there is snow. And the entire bus schedule—which is already very tight because of the one wheelchair accessible bus in the district—can be rearranged by 20-30 minutes so our driveway can be shoveled. But the town which has trucks with which to clear snow can’t spend three minutes cleaning up the mess they made. He gave me the name and number of the person he talked with. I suspect that when she hears our side of the story she will have a different view of the situation.

What if we were talking about this man’s daughter? Or father? Or himself? Would he simply say, “This does not fall within the town’s jurisdiction,” with a certain amount of pride? Or would he make sure that particular resident did not have barriers to access his or her home? I have wondered if meeting Oscar would make a difference. Putting a face to the story. But more than that. Oscar is charming. Oscar is a good negotiator. Oscar wins people over. But I am not looking for an exception for my son. I am looking for equal access for all people with disabilities.

I do understand that of course it does not fall within the town’s jurisdiction to take care of personal property. It may even be that the town is not legally obligated to clean up their messes. Nor is the higher-up in the town I have spoken with legally obligated to be sympathetic. But I am not legally obligated to back down. And I will not until we have come to a solution that is reasonable. A solution that takes into account basic accessibility needs of a person using a wheelchair.