EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – The harsh winter has led to plenty of problems on the road, especially for drivers trying to get into parking lots. But the problem can turn dangerous for people with disabilities who say some handicap parking spaces are covered in snow.
Sheila Kalish said she and others with disabilities have noticed it around Eau Claire. She was out to eat in the Mall Drive shopping area when she saw one of the handicap spaces had been plowed in with snow piling high.
“I looked over at the handicap spaces and I said wait a minute, where are they? And I found they were buried in snow over here. They had been plowed in,” said Kalish who has degenerative disc disease and has gone through numerous surgeries.
Kalish said she had a foot surgery less than a week ago and in most cases, icy weather and conditions on the road isn’t safe for her to walk very far.
“I hope they’ll realize while there may be other parking spaces available, that people who have a disability who do have legitimate reason for parking need those spaces to be available close to the building so they can get in and out and be accessible,” she said.
District attorney of Chippewa County Steve Gibbs said according to state law, the responsibility is in the hands of the owner or lessee of the parking spaces.
“They’re responsible for removing snow in that area within a reasonable amount of time,” said Gibbs who hasn’t seen any cases involving snow-covered handicapped parking spaces in the last two years.
According to Wisconsin statute 346.503 (2e), the owner or lessee must “make other reasonable efforts to ensure that the spaces are available for use by a motor vehicle used by a physically disabled person.”
In section 5, it goes onto say that a member of a disabled parking enforcement assistance council can file a report with specific information on location and time. Within 24 hours, the member can deliver the report to a traffic officer. Within 48 hours of receiving the report and investigating, the traffic officer can prepare a traffic citation for the violation and serve it to the owner or lessee.
But if a disabled person does come across a handicapped parking space covered in snow, Gibbs said the situation can easily be resolved.
“They should politely request the property owner or the lessee to correct that. Then I’d have them contact authorities to have them encourage the property owner or lessee to remove the snow from the area,” said Gibbs.
We talked to the property owner at the strip along Mall Drive who said she wasn’t aware of the situation but contacted the private contractors to come in and plow the snow. We checked Monday evening and the snow had been cleared. She said because of the unseasonably cold and snowy winter, contractors said they’ve had a tough time hauling the snow out.
A similar situation was spotted in numerous parking lots across town. Property owners said it is because of the unseasonably cold weather and amount of snow. Much of the snow turned into ice quickly and was too heavy to haul out.
Even on city property, like at Boyd Park, we spotted a handicapped parking space that had piles of snow. The Parks and Recreation department has since been notified, saying the snow will be cleared.
Kalish said because of the harsh winter, it’s been even more difficult for people with disabilities and especially the elderly to find parking and walk. For people who have vans with lifts, handicapped designated parking spots are necessary for them to get out of the vehicle, she said.
“It’s been very difficult for people to get out and find accessible parking spaces, so it’s really important that we keep these spaces clear so that they are able to get in and out of spaces safely,” said Kalish.