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With scooter stuck in snow, Disabilities Council director says: ‘Please shovel’

Joan Willshire, executive director of the Minnesota State Council on Disabilities, was stuck in an unshoveled sidewalk along University Avenue in St. Paul.

Photo by Doug Knutson
Joan Willshire

The executive director of the Minnesota State Council on Disability has a personal plea for homeowners and businesses:

Shovel the darn sidewalks.

Joan Willshire, the longtime MSCOD boss, has been preaching about the problem for years. Besides advocating for those with disabilities throughout the state, she has MS and uses a scooter to get around.

On Tuesday afternoon, in the bitter below-zero cold, her scooter got stuck in the unshoveled snow on a sidewalk. This wasn’t some little-used residential sidewalk. She was on University Avenue in St. Paul, near Raymond. And she sunk into four inches of snow.

Willshire told me it looked at first like the snow was firmly compacted, but it wasn’t. She was stuck.

I was very scared because I could not get anyone’s attention at first. I knew someone would eventually help, but when? Buses and cars going by and here I sat in the sidewalk, stuck. The bad thing was I had to take my glove off to use my phone so I was really getting cold.

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It was mid-afternoon, and she yelled for several minutes and was ready to dial 911 when a woman and her young son stopped to help. They couldn’t budge her, though. The woman then found a man heading into the post office. He didn’t have a hat or gloves, but he helped push her out.

She said the sidewalk on either side had been cleared, but not the walk in front of the building housing the post office.

She went inside the post office to warm up, and the building owner came over to apologize, she said.

She said she told him: “You might think it’s just a little snow,  but this is one of the many issues many people with disabilities face on a daily basis. We’re just trying to do normal, everyday things.”

She said: “This was work stuff in the middle of the day.”

Unshoveled bus shelters are another common problem for those with disabilities, she said, as are curb cuts on the sidewalks, after plows have passed.

A day after her misadventure, Willshire was still shaken.

“What might have happened had people not heard me, or if I didn’t have a phone? To shovel or not should never be a question — just do it. It could mean someone’s safety,” she said.