Weather challenges NIU’s disabled

By Julie Zvitkovits

NIU students with disabilities are finding obstacles right outside their doors because of snow and ice on campus.

Snow, ice and slush place limits on walking and operating wheelchairs or scooters, said Sue Reinhardt, coordinator of the NIU Services for the Disabled. There is greater potential to fall or for a wheelchair or scooter to tip over, she said.

“If it is cleared, I can get through,” said Sue Haas, an NIU student who uses a wheelchair.

But last Friday, about two inches of snow were left uncleared, making it harder to move a wheelchair, Haas said. Wet floors indoors also create a hazard, she said.

Routes used by students with disabilities are a high priority for snow removal crews, said Tom Anderson, Physical Plant grounds foreman. Snow becomes packed down when walked over, making it harder to clear, he said.

The weather Jan. 25 “was so windy that the visibility was bad, so we pulled the crews in for a couple hours,” Anderson said. Removal was continued Jan. 26 and throughout the following days, he said.

The weather also restricts the visually impaired, Reinhardt said. Often they are not aware of ice patches, causing them to fall, she said.

“Snow takes away travel guidelines to run a cane, such as when lining up to cross an intersection,” she said. Snow also affects hearing perception by muffling sounds and echos, she said.

According to the NIU Weather Service data, an average of 6.82 inches of snow falls in February. However, 16 inches of snow fell during the month of February in 1980.

The Senior Center of DeKalb’s Family Service Agency and the city of DeKalb can send someone to remove snow for senior citizens or disabled residents, including NIU students, Senior Center Director Tom Zucker said.

The DeKalb County Youth Services Bureau helped recruit volunteers for the service, Zucker said. If there is a problem, the center will help negotiate payment, he said.