Winter Travel Safety for Individuals With Disabilities

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winter safety
Stay warm and safe!

Winter 2017-18 has been brutal.  Frigid temperatures have been responsible for the deaths of 9 people in Wisconsin in a weeks time.  I am a born and raised Cheesehead.   Packers, cheese curds and winter is in my blood.  However, as a man with a disability and a wheelchair user, I am very aware of the dangers Old Man Winter brings.  I have made winter safety a part of my daily life and travel routine.


When temperatures and wind chills dip below zero the safest place to be is home.  However, life is not that easy.  Bears can afford to hibernate, people generally can not.  Work, appointments, shopping and social events separates us from the hairy, snoring beast who get to sleep through winter.  This is one time this Packer Backer wishes he was a bear!


Over the holidays, I hit the road to go visit family.  Prior to the road trip, my mom took my vehicle in for maintenance and to have the brakes repaired.  I can’t say we have always been this careful, but a recent mishap brought things to light for us.  In early November, we were about to head to a surprise anniversary party about an hour away.  My low tire pressure light came on and my mom attempted to put air in the tire at the gas station 2 blocks away.  As she was filling the tire, the stem broke off!  My brother’s thumb and duct tape, gave us a chance to get my car home before the tire went flat.  All the what if’s came into my mind.  What if this happened an hour from home?  What if the tire went flat on one of the back country roads we would have been traveling on.  Were we prepared?  Were we one breakdown away from a tragedy?


I put together Winter Travel Safety Tips for those with disabilities and those who travel with a person with a disability.  Although these tips are designed for longer road trips, they also come in handy in day to day driving.  As many of you know, a few years ago I was stranded a few miles from my home when my van lift died.  Although I had extra blankets to keep me warm, the stress and the prolonged exposure resulted in a winter’s long illness.  I discovered it is always a good idea to plan ahead for the worst possible scenario.



Winter Safety Travel Tips

Before Trip:

  • Stay current on car and tire maintenance.

  • Keep gas tank above 1/2 full

  • If going on a longer trip, take vehicle in for a full check-up

  • Check and refill any auto fluids, especially window washer fluid

  • Check spare tire and jack

  • Make an emergency contact list with phone numbers

  • Email itinerary and driving route to several loved ones.  Do not deviate off the route unless contacting those you emailed.  Someone should always know where you are at and what time you are expected to arrive.

  • Have your living will and other related documents in order.  I know this sounds morbid, but you have to plan for the worse.



Pack in Vehicle

  • Non-perishable food.  Pack foods such as nuts, beef jerky, candy bars and easy open canned foods

  • Water bottles

  • Medical Equipment and toileting needs.  (Pack extra is possible in case you are stranded)

  • Medication (Plan of the worse and always pack extra)

  • Flashlight (include extra batteries)

  • Cell Phones and chargers (If possible bring several cell phones, all fully charged)

  • Extra hats, socks, mittens and waterproof boots

  • Warm wheelchair poncho

  • Sleeping bag (extreme cold) or blankets

  • Several packs of hand warmers

  • Winter First Aid Kit (should include emergency blanket)

  • Tools (Include basic tool kit. tire iron, fold-able shovel, pocketknife and a hatchet)

  • Whistle, flares and flags to signal rescue

  • Windshield scraper and a small broom

  • Battery powered radio

  • Waterproof matches, lighter and small candles

  • Tow chain and/or rope

  • Charging cables

  • Road salt, sand or kitty litter

In the Event of Breakdown or Accident

  • Call 911 and stay on line as long as possible.  Make sure your GPS tracker on your phone is on.

  • Inform 911 operator of any special needs or medical conditions you or your passengers may have

  • Relay any and all injuries to the 911 operator

  • If possible record or write down any behaviors or symptoms as they change

  • If waiting for a period of time for assistance, try to move in and out of vehicle to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and hypothermia.

  • Keep emergency contact numbers in coat pocket

  • If you or anyone one else has to travel away from the vehicle, keep personal information, emergency contacts and license plate number in your pocket.

  • Stay hydrated and nourished

  • DO NOT try to push vehicle out alone, especially if you are alone or the caregiver for the passenger. If you are injured, you can not assure the care and safety of the passenger with a disability.

  • Stay as dry as possible.

  • Use phone only to contact EMS or to check in with emergency contact.  Save phone charge as long as possible.

I think the best winter safety tip is to BE SMART.  When the temperature dips to dangerous levels or the roads are snow and ice covered, stay home.  A potential night of fun out is not worth risking your life.  Dress for the weather no matter how quick your chore or errand.  Plan ahead when taking trips and make sure you have all the necessary survival gear and tools.

Stay warm and until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’

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