On a bitterly cold and overcast morning, Joy Rindels-Hayden leaned heavily against her walker as she inched her way down an icy sidewalk in south Minneapolis.

For Rindels-Hayden, who is 86 and has a brain injury, every step is a struggle.

A sheet of ice crackled under the wheels of her walker. Every few steps, she stopped to catch her breath and survey the perilous path to her bus stop near 38th Street and Minnehaha Avenue. A winter journey that would take most able-bodied people a few minutes is, for Rindels-Hayden, a half-hour ordeal fraught with risk.

When Rindels-Hayden finally reached her transit stop, she took one look at the 3-foot snowbank obstructing her way and shook her head angrily. "Who do they think we are? Mountain goats?!" she asked. "Someone is going to get seriously hurt if these bus stops aren't cleared."

Rindels-Hayden, a retired teacher, has reason to be unusually aware of transit safety. On Jan. 9, 2017, she had just finished physical therapy and was making her way off a Metro Transit bus at 38th and Chicago Avenue when the hydraulic ramp failed to lower correctly because of snow piled on the sidewalk. The back wheels of her walker caught on the uneven ramp, and Rindels-Hayden fell, slamming the back of her head on Chicago Avenue. She briefly lost consciousness but did not immediately seek medical help.

Five days later, her husband found Rindels-Hayden unconscious in bed with blood pouring from her nose — the result of an internal brain bleed and stroke related to the fall. She spent the next 17 days in the hospital and had to undergo rehabilitation. She still suffers sharp pains in the back of her head, and the medical bills associated with her injury and physical therapy eroded her savings. She now relies on a church pantry for much of her food.

"When I was laying in my hospital bed for days and days," she said, "I began to think about the laws of physics and geometry and realized this could happen to anyone."

Rindels-Hayden has since made bus safety her life's mission.

Three years ago, she teamed with the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance to ask the Legislature to bolster bus safety, particularly during the perilous winter months. Her bill, which has bipartisan support, would require Metro Transit drivers to receive mandatory training on helping persons with disabilities and limited mobility enter and leave buses. The training would cover scenarios in which access is made unsafe by snow, ice or other obstructions.

The bill has twice failed to pass, but Rindels-Hayden is returning to the State Capitol this year for another round of lobbying — in what she thinks might be her last attempt. "People think I'm melodramatic when I say this, but I've gotta get this bill passed because I don't have much time left," she said, while waiting for the bus. "It's now or never."

Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr said bus drivers receive instruction on assisting individuals with mobility devices, such as walkers and wheelchairs, during initial training and as part of ongoing training. In winter months, drivers are instructed to stop where they feel it is safest for riders to board or exit, based on road and sidewalk conditions. Metro Transit drivers have reported 236 accidents that occurred while a person boarded or exited buses between 2018 and 2022. Metro Transit recorded 31 such accidents last year, down by more than half since 2018, according to the agency's data.

Kerr said the agency does not oppose the bill.

Rindels-Hayden rides public transit nearly every day, and the bus itself is one of her favorite venues for spreading the word about her bill. Many passengers on Route 23 along 38th Street are familiar with Rindels-Hayden and her bright hats and scarves, which she wears precisely so bus drivers can more easily spot her at bus stops. She scours the buses for riders like her — seniors and those in walkers — who can relate to her struggles.

Her opening line is almost always the same: "Hello, my name is Joy Rindels-Hayden and I've got a bill at the Legislature to help keep you safe."

Then she launches into her story about her fall and the brain injury. Sometimes people nod in silence or look away, she said. Other times, passengers open up to her about their own struggles with navigating public transit in the snow — of slipping on ramps and having to climb over or slide down snowbanks to get to bus stops.

"It's hard, because I have to talk in a very hurried manner because I never know when [the person listening] is going to get off the bus," she said. "But I want people to understand that this is not the rantings of some 86-year-old, that the injury that happened to me is going to happen to someone else unless something is done."

As the bus wound its way through south Minneapolis, Rindels-Hayden peered out the window and pointed out snow-heaped bus stops and other perils.

Eventually, she reached her destination — the food shelf at Incarnation Catholic Church at 38th and Pleasant Avenue. This time, the hydraulic ramp lowered smoothly to a sidewalk mostly cleared of ice and snow.

Rindels-Hayden pulled on the purple mittens that she knitted herself and waved goodbye to the departing bus driver.