Disability visibility

New columnist discusses the importance of disability awareness in the community

Courtesy Jennifer Ochs

Hello, Boulder! I’m Jenn Ochs, Ms. Wheelchair Colorado 2023, and I will be discussing all things disability for you. Disability issues are kind of unknown. I want to change that.

First, I’ll tell you a little about me. I’ve lived in Boulder for five years, and I went to high school at Centaurus in Lafayette. I’m originally from Kansas but moved to Superior when I was 15. After living in several states, I came back to Colorado in 2016. 

I was not born disabled. Complications from Leukemia made me a wheelchair user 10 years ago. Before becoming disabled, I was married, had a marketing career and owned a home in South Carolina. Becoming disabled turned my life upside down and my husband divorced me. This gave me the experience of living an able-bodied life as well as one with a disability. 

I’m passionate about raising disability awareness. Just because I use a wheelchair doesn’t make me any different from you. I’m active in the Boulder community; I vote and pay taxes.

I believe people with disabilities belong out in our community. I’m very involved in disability advocacy and passionate about helping others with disabilities to be able to live independently. 

There are tons of barriers I deal with daily in the community. I want to bring awareness to these barriers and acknowledge that despite the challenges, it is possible to live independently with a disability. 

Also, I want able-bodied people to realize that becoming disabled could happen to anyone at any time. Aging will bring disabilities to everyone. Disability awareness is beneficial to everyone — not just people with disabilities! 

Cold, snow — and serious issues

Each month, I will write about various disability topics. This month, I want to raise awareness about the difficulties of cold weather and how it can negatively affect people with disabilities. 

Wheelchairs and snow don’t mix. Actually, walkers and strollers also don’t mix with snow. Even when the streets are plowed, slush collected at curbs and intersections can make it impossible for a wheelchair to move. Just this week, my power chair got stuck in the middle of Pearl Street on a mound of slush and snow. 

Then there is the problem of snow at the bus stops. Some stops are not shoveled at all. When I addressed the issue with RTD, they claimed stops were shoveled but City plows came along after RTD and caused the stop to be “re-covered’ with snow. Also, snow piles at the edges of curbs prohibit the necessary ramp from lowering, which is how wheelchairs board the bus.  

RTD points to the volunteer stop shoveling program,  Adopt-a-Stop | RTD-Denver, as a solution. In the program, neighborhoods or individuals adopt a specific stop and monitor the stop for needed shoveling or trash and vandalism issues. The City of Boulder has created Shovel-a-Stop programs to address this issue. 

Besides the snow accumulation, dealing with Mother Nature is a barrier itself. Cold weather and high winds are obstacles. Bus shelters often have missing windows or don’t exist at all. A shelter without windows is just a wind tunnel. 

Perhaps an unexpected barrier is holiday decorations wrapped around hand rails. While garland or lights wrapped around railings looks festive, they are a danger to those who rely on rails to climb the stairs. 

Let’s work together as a community to raise disability awareness to create a community that welcomes people of all abilities. 

Jenn Ochs lives in Boulder and enjoys listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks while painting or drawing. She is a disability rights advocate and a graduate from Baylor University in Texas, which is where she realized that Boulder is the best place to live. 

Self description (for people with visual impairment): Jenn is a woman in her early forties with short brown hair and glasses and sitting in a wheelchair.

Did you know? Audio Information Network of Colorado (AIN) reads full Boulder Weekly issues for blind and low-vision readers? Listen on Spotify.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here