Okay, many people have to wait to have their own parking lots and walks cleared, so that isn’t really the problem.  But there is a problem – a really big one.

That problem is that, in a day or so when the walks should all have been cleared, most – especially those in the business areas – will not have been.  Curb cuts will have ice packed down, but will be impassable by anyone in wheelchairs.  Those sidewalks that show evidence of shoveling will probably have only about 18” of cleared space, again making them impassable.  If you need to use the bus, you will have to sit several feet into the street.  Not a safe option!

It would be easy to say that people don’t know that there is a law about this.  The entire sidewalk is supposed to be clear within a certain number of hours after the snow stops.  But lack of knowledge isn’t really the problem, is it?

The subject has been approached with both the police department and city officials many times over the years.  However, rather than deal with the business area, the response is usually misdirected to the neighborhoods and the excuses about how difficult it is for elderly people to clear their walks are offered.  Then all the efforts address that issue and the business areas are ignored and the sidewalks remain uncleared.

There are solutions for the neighborhoods, several of which have been proposed.  However, there has been a serious lack of willingness to follow through on those also.  Getting volunteers from the schools where students all have community service requirements is one solution.  When he was on the police force, Jimmy Winters gathered volunteers to help clear those sidewalks for those who couldn’t.  Making it clear to property owners that this is a law and that they are responsible for clearing or arranging to clear their sidewalks was also proposed but never received follow-through.  Of course, even when notices are given, the efforts fall apart when the citations are dismissed.  

While all this is going on, the business areas remain impassable.  Every single year, these areas are ignored.  

So, the answer to my question is, if you live in Newport and use a wheelchair, snow means confinement and isolation.  Don’t plan on going anywhere until the snow melts.  
But, I should have asked another question:  Why won’t Newport officials enforce their own laws in the business areas?

This op-ed was written and submitted by Annette Bourbonniere ,an activist for the rights of persons with disabilities. The views and opinions expressed within are not necessarily those of What’sUpNewp, its writers or its advertisers.

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Ryan Belmore has been the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp since 2012. He also currently works for Mountain News, where he serves as Senior Editor - North America for OnTheSnow. He previously worked for the New England Patriots and American Cancer Society. He currently serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).