It’s the time of year when people winter proof their homes — caulking, adding insulation, checking roofs, gutters and downspouts, putting lawn tools away and bringing snow blowers and shovels out of storage. However people with mobility issues need to take extra precautions when preparing for winter.
“Dedicate some extra time to go over all mobility care equipment, including wheelchairs, walkers, vehicle lifts and vertical porch lifts and ensure everything is working properly,” says Rose Titus, owner/rehabilitation specialist of MEDability Health Care Solutions in Markham, Ont.
Ask if your mobility company has an annual maintenance plan, where service techs will check to make sure everything is in working order, says Justin Fox, owner of The Mobility Shop in Toronto.
Hire a professional medical equipment company to do preventative maintenance on equipment such as vertical porch lifts. It’s important that they specially rated grease be used on the acme screw, which is what moves the lift up and down, says MEDability’s owner/accessibility consultant Don Titus.
Vertical lifts should be parked above ground and the motor should be warmed up before using. Before you board the lift, run it down then back up again to warm it up, Don says.
Have a back-up manual wheelchair or a secondary power source for electric medical equipment, Rose says. “Your motorized wheelchair battery will lose 60 per cent of its charge as soon as the temperature drops below zero.”
Preserve battery life by wrapping the battery in a blanket. When the battery is not in use, leave it plugged in to keep them warm, she says. “Batteries under perform in colder weather and it will take them longer to charge,” Fox says.
When not in use for extended periods, he recommends scooter batteries be kept inside. It’s also of utmost importance not to let the batteries drain completely because that could damage the battery, he says. “People come in and say the battery was fine in September or October, and in April they wonder why the battery is dead. If batteries drain completely, they lose their ability to recharge, which can lower their functionality. You may have been able to go 10 to 15 km and now only get two to three km.”
Try to take the scooter out when the weather is nice and go to the mall and drive around, then come home and recharge it. If you can’t get out, at least turn the scooter on, let the battery drain a bit then recharge it, Fox says.
If you must go out, “modifications can help you avoid getting stuck in the snow or sliding on the ice. You can create your own wheel grips with some nylon cables,” Rose says. “Wrap the cables 25 to 30 times evenly around your wheels, being sure to point the buckles to the inside of the wheel. You will have additional grip during the winter months.”
Lighting and surfaces should be next on the checklist. Any surface you will be walking on should be kept clear of ice and snow, so you may want to hire a neighbour or snow-clearing company before the first flakes fly so you’ll be prepared.
Special paint, which has a sandy grit in it, can be applied to porches and decks to make the surface less slippery, says Fox.
Ensure concrete surfaces are textured for a better grip. If using stamped concrete, don’t choose a high-gloss finish, Don says. Again, use a melter specifically designed for the surface and keep plenty of sand in a handy spot to help keep ramps and sidewalks slip-free.
“Having a homemade de-icer on hand will be beneficial. Mix 50 per cent vinegar and 50 per cent water in a spray bottle, and watch the icy pathways vanish,” says Rose Titus, adding another de-icer recipe calls for mixing two-thirds rubbing alcohol and one-third water in a spray bottle.
Metal ramps usually have a non-slip surface. If you choose to use a melter, do not use salt because it will corrode the metal.
For wood ramps, it’s a good idea to apply fresh strips of non-slip tape to wood planks each year. The tape can be stapled down on alternating wood planks. If you are not replacing all of the tape, check it to make sure it is usable for the upcoming season and replace strips that are not. Staple down anything that has come loose, Don says. “It’s not expensive and it’s good to do annually. It’s no different than putting on your snow tires.”
Fox recommends using lighting with motion sensors near entry doors. It’s common sense, but “it makes it easier to navigate if you can see.”
You may also want to have an emergency kit, whether you have special needs or not.
The Government of Canada offers information on its Public Safety Canada Website.
Public Safety Canada recommends that people be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours, with items such as food, water and a battery-operated flashlight. The website also has instructions for those with special health needs, including keeping information such as medical conditions, medications and emergency contacts in their emergency kits.
“Talk to your doctor about preparing a grab-and-go bag, if possible, with a two-week supply of medication and medical supplies. Include prescriptions and medical documents. Remember that pharmacies may be closed for some time, even after an emergency is over,” Public Safety Canada says.
Other tips for people with a disability or special medical needs include making sure all emergency kit items are organized in one place, special needs equipment is tagged and includes instructions about how to use each device during an emergency and having a list of food/drug allergies and current medications.
Service animals should also have an emergency kit that includes a minimum 72-hour supply of bottled water and pet food, as well as medications with a list of medical conditions, dosage and frequency and medical records including vaccinations.