Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


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

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.

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.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/29/2014 - 03:56 pm.


    I make sure my sidewalk is well cleared, even though my city comes by and plows it. I figure I do a better job than they do and it helps to make my neighborhood to look well kept and inviting. It would be nice if MTC would hit the bus stops and keep those clear, but I have to imagine there are thousands of those around the Cities and it would take an equally large crew to clear them all.

    We all lead busy lives, but if you have some free time take a few minutes to shovel out your local bus stop. I dropped by one of the bus shelters near me a couple of weeks ago and took a shovel to the mess of white stuff around the place. There was a young couple there with a stroller and a young baby and it didn’t take much observation to see that they would have a tough time getting around. It’s not just people with disabilities who could use your help.

    The husband grabbed one of my spare shovels and we had the whole shelter cleared out in no time. Given the packed snow we’ve got though I think I’ll take along a pick ax or jack hammer tonight to get up the worst parts.

  2. Submitted by Gwyn Leder on 01/29/2014 - 04:58 pm.

    scuter in snow

    I have sympathy for you — — you should not have been placed in this situation. People do not realize that disabled individuals need things like shoveled sidewalks.

  3. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/29/2014 - 11:20 pm.


    Feeling like a schmuck after reading this. I will do better.

  4. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 01/31/2014 - 08:09 am.

    I’ve often wondered why some advocacy groups don’t get together and file an ADA lawsuit about the lazy and inadequate response to snow impeding sidewalk movement. I’m able bodied and still have a tough time walking around during the winter. The entire city basically becomes impassible for anyone with limited mobility once it starts snowing and remains that way until it thaws in the spring.

    It’s not just a matter of poorly cleared sidewalks, though. It’s curb cuts to crosswalks, access to the street at bus stops and so many other details no one seems to care about. No one can seem to decide whose responsibility it is to clear the part between the street and sidewalk at intersections so in most places no one bothers to do it at all. That’s not OK.

Leave a Reply