Celebrating the International Day for Persons with Disabilities: South Africa Speaks Out

On 3rd December, a few million South Africans with disabilities will be celebrating, International Day for Persons with Disabilities. The day remains dedicated to celebration. Celebration of our existence in society, celebration of our achievements in society and celebration of our contribution to society.
When the day has gone, we will be back to normal routine of fighting for the rights of our members in an inequitable society even though backed by some of the most wonderful legislation in the world.
The QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) is calling on Government to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which was ratified, but now lies dormant.
This Convention, once integrated into our legislation and society, will be the key to the offering of opportunities and equal rights for people with disabilities in South Africa.
Quadriplegics and paraplegics can still not use public transport in South Africa.  An accessible and integrated public transport system is the key for people with mobility impairments to integrate into mainstream society.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), has failed wheelchair users with the incorrect specification of rolling stock and inaccessible platforms. The Metrorail system has yet to come up with a solution for wheelchair users and therefore we have no access to trains. The minibus taxi industry has traditionally driven right past our members. They state that if they are not subsidised, there is no incentive for them to forfeit a fare which would be taken up by a wheelchair. A few door-to-door initiatives are in place, but the program itself runs at the loss and is not sustainable.
There is no accessible transport system or network available in rural areas. Thus, our members are truly disabled and immobile, not by the disability, but by a system which has failed them and one yet to be developed.
QASA is calling on Government to urgently address the issue of accessible public transport and speed up delivery on the Transport Strategy.
Many buildings in South Africa, including schools, public buildings, libraries, places of worship, universities and colleges, banks and corporate offices remain inaccessible for wheelchair users. Entering into the building by the back door is not an option and we have the right as any other customer or service receiver, to enter independently.
What is most concerning is that many of the SASSA pay points and buildings which managed and distribute the grants for people with disabilities are themselves extremely inaccessible. The poorest of the poor, themselves battle to get to the counter to draw and apply for their own meagre grant.
The National Building Regulations have failed to be policed by the local authorities and many new buildings surprisingly, still exclude people with mobility impairments, the opportunity of independent circulation.
QASA is calling on the Department of Public Works to urgently make an assessment of all government buildings and challenge Civil society to do the same in the interests of providing equitable and accessible environments for all.
Local Authorities must ensure all buildings comply with the National Building Regulations.
The Employment Equity Act has not created much impact at all and transport and inaccessible buildings have been the stumbling block for people to access skills development, education, training and therefore employment.
There needs to be collaboration and cooperation between many government departments in order to achieve equitable environments for people with disabilities.
Universal design is a principle which has been adopted by QASA and which will provide the solution in the built environment and in the design and manufacture of many products used by all.
Many members of QASA will celebrate their lives as people with disabilities on the 3rd, but many more would contemplate how tough it is to survive in South Africa, with very little progress having been made on the ground in the last 15 years.
QASA is a leading disability agency, providing projects products and services to develop opportunities and empower quadriplegics and paraplegics in South Africa.
Ari Seirlis
National Director
QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA)
Tel: 031 7670352/48   Fax: 031 7670584  Email: info@qasa.co.za
Mobile: 0829014150 

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