Snow and Ice Awareness: Advice from One of New England’s Premier Mobility Instructors

A snow shovel leans against a 6 foot wall of snow, with an icy sidewalk beside it.
A snow shovel leans against a 6 foot wall of snow, with an icy sidewalk beside it.

What to be aware of when there is a lot of snow

Joe Kolb has been teaching mobility to people with vision loss for 31 years. I interviewed him on January 30, three days after a big blizzard swept across parts of New England.

I started with questions about snow safety. Here are his recommendations, mostly in his own words.


Be patient!

It is generally prudent not to take risks early on. Give the town time to do snow removal. Wait till the snow clearing happens before you get out too much, or you can get yourself into a lot of trouble!

When you live in a town with no sidewalks, snow piles make the street narrower and it is more risky to a person traveling in the road with a cane.

And if you live in a place that does have sidewalks, you may not be accustomed to walking on the street and may be risking yourself without knowing it.

Ice under the snow

Eventually the sun comes out, and it is good to know which side of the street the sun strikes most. There will be quicker melting there, and you might change your route planning to walk on the sunny side of the street.

Ice is tricky for everyone, and when it is snowy and cold, you can assume there is ice under the snow. You should skate rather than step, do not lift your feet up, and keep a little bend at the knee for added balance.

A cane with a pointed tip is very useful. You can dig it into the snow for added balance. I like Ambutech the Canadian company. They have a hook style tip you can unhook very easily and replace with a ball tip or a pointed tip as conditions require. (of course you have to buy the cane too!) Before that, it was the mobility instructor who had to change cane tips.

Maybe a guide dog would suit you

When you are using a cane, whatever the tip, snow takes away guidelines and landmarks. If you live in an area with snowy winters, this might be what encourages you to get a guide dog.

Losing your own front door

I told Joe that a friend of mine got lost twice shoveling his driveway, and had to be rescued by neighbors just trying to find his own front door. Now he makes sure he takes his phone and that family are aware he is out there.

Planning for winter

Joe remembers shoveling a fair amount just to get to the front doors of clients. He also pointed out that unshoveled snow obstructs access to your home by emergency vehicles.

Try to arrange in advance for the clearing of snow on your own property. There are no town programs for people with disabilities that he knows of, and if you are going to live up here during the winter you have to make a plan.

Snow does encourage neighborliness, a form of public assistance that does not often get mentioned in the mobility text books. A good neighbor who snow blows your driveway offers you help with your mobility as much or more than grabbing his elbow.

But people don’t always live in a community where neighbors are aware of each other.

It is important to knock on the doors of your neighbors when the sun is shining and introduce yourself, especially if you are living independently.

Stay safe and let us all know your tips and tricks for traveling in snow and ice.

Note: Part 2 of money handling will be published next week, Feb. 10, with updates to Part 1.

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