Staying safe and mobile during the winter

Winter can be tough for those with mobility issues. Here are some suggestions to stay warm, safe, and mobile when the weather gets cold.

Snow, ice, and other winter conditions are especially difficult for disabled people or people with reduced mobility, especially those who don't drive and depend on sidewalks and other public areas.


Cold weather barriers

Unfortunately, people with difficulties walking, and users of wheelchairs or other mobility devices can’t take accessibility during winter for granted. Streets, pavements, and squares can be slippery or frosty and compromise grip. Enjoying wintertime is of course not only about clear sidewalks, curbs, and parking lots. Icy or frosty pavements can make it difficult to move around safely. Furthermore, cold hands and numbness can make it hard to maneuver mobility devices. Staying warm can be a challenge, especially if you are seated.

So, what can you do to move through winter more smoothly and safely? We have gathered some tips to help you stay independent and improve your quality of mobility during colder weather.


Prepare your walking sticks, crutches, and other mobility walkers

It is important that your walking stick has a gripping foot or is adapted for winter use. Even with spikes on them, walking sticks and similar devices won’t give you a lot of control when walking on snow. Since their small surfaces can’t provide proper balance, we recommend moving near ramps or walls to always have something to hold on to. Beware of old, icy snow beneath new snow and take smaller steps, always keeping one foot on the ground.

Use lights and reflective stickers, straps, or keychains on your device to increase visibility. Wear a reflective safety vest on yourself, especially when you’re outside after dark. Carry a fully charged cell phone with you, in case of emergency.


Stay warm and protected in wheelchairs and scooters

Light-weighted devices often can have difficulties maintaining a good grip and will handle snow better when they are hand-wheeled or pushed. It might be safer and more effective to ask someone to push you around instead of moving it on your own. Heavier devices generally work fine in small amounts of snow. Have a backup plan in case your wheelchair or scooter gets stuck. Be sure there is a helper, friend, or relative you can call if you need help.

Dress according to weather conditions that can change. Wearing layers help you to adjust as you move between outside and indoors. Choose a top layer that is resistant to snow and rain. Cover your head and hands well and use waterproof gloves if using a manual wheelchair. Wear sunglasses and sunscreen for snow reflection.


Safety tips for driving in winter

Navigating through heavy winter weather is undoubtedly challenging for someone with limited mobility. Online you are going to find numerous recommendations for winter driving. The British charity Motability for example has several useful checklists for disabled people. To help you avoid getting stuck in snow or information, we've compiled key tips for your next car ride. We split up the gathered content into three categories related to planning, safety, and comfort of your next winter drive.


1. Stay ahead

  • Check the weather forecast and make sure you can handle the upcoming weather conditions.
  • Determine for yourself if the drive is critical and can be delayed until road conditions improve.
  • Even if you prefer to drive yourself, sometimes it can be safer to travel with someone else behind the steering wheel.
  • Be sure your vehicle is winter-ready. If possible, prepare it already during warmer days.
  • Be sure to always have half a tank of gas.


2. Stay safe 

  • Check your light bulbs and wipe them to make sure they are clearly visible to others on the road.
  • Check that the windshield wipers are functioning. Ensure that your antifreeze and windshield washer is filled and that you have an ice scraper available.
  • When driving an automatic, remember that it may not function as well in the snow as a vehicle with manual transmission.
  • Avoid driving without winter tires.
  • Manoeuvre gently, slow down and allow more time for acceleration and braking. Try to stay on the main roads in icy weather.
  • Additional lights for your wheelchair and a reflective safety vest on yourself will make you more visible in case you have to leave your vehicle.


3. Stay comfortable

  • Just in case, prepare to take hot beverages, food, warm clothes, and blankets, as well as medication with you.
  • Always travel with a fully charged mobile phone and may let others know about your travel plans. Save important numbers to your phone, e.g., for roadside assistance. You may not have any data signal and cannot search them.
  • Ask about accessibility or plan regarding cleared sidewalks and ramps before arrival.
  • Scooter and motorized wheelchair users should check their battery life since it runs for a shorter distance in cold weather.
  • If you have an EV, use the remote preconditioning feature to heat the interior of the vehicle and clear the windscreens before leaving. Preconditioning also warms the battery, helping it to run more effectively and improving your range. The range of your EV will be affected much more during the cold months than in other seasons. Check out your route's charging stations before leaving and charge your battery before departure.


More accessibility and safety through collective efforts

Winter weather can't be changed by one person, but collective action is necessary to reduce the effects on those with impaired mobility. Those facing winter challenges need clear sidewalks, secure ramps, and unrestricted movement. Let's work together to improve the independence and quality of mobility for those struggling to move freely.

We can all contribute to improving accessibility during winter. For instance, make sure the sidewalks near your home are clear. Check curbs for any obstacles. People using mobility devices may be hindered by snow or ice. Offer help if needed, ask if assistance is desired, and what you can do.

And if you are driving a vehicle, remember that wheelchair users are moving at a lower line of sight. People who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices are much more vulnerable in winter traffic. Watch out for pedestrian crossings, parking entrances and exits.