Involvement with the SPAR Wheelchair Wednesday campaign has seen Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) effect several changes to make the Port Elizabeth (PE) airport more accessible.
Managed by the Association for Persons with Disabilities (APD) and supported by SPAR Eastern Cape, Wheelchair Wednesday encourages volunteers from businesses, the municipality and schools to spend four hours in a wheelchair on every Wednesday in August each year to raise awareness of the challenges facing wheelchair users.
Several years ago, ACSA put its hand up to take part in the campaign. And so Airfield Services manager Selvin Meyer acted as the assistant to colleague Bulelwa Bloko, who got to be in the wheelchair. As Meyer and Bloko went about their assigned tasks, which included a trip through the airport, Meyer realised the lack of access for people with disabilities to the first floor in the fire station, where the Emergency Control Centre (ECC) staff and their offices were situated.
“This meant that the ECC, based on that level, would have difficulty offering any services to a person with a disability,” Meyer says. “That was one of the reasons why we have now moved the ECC to the roof of the terminal building, which has access through lifts, while wheelchair ramps have been created where necessary.”
He adds that they went through several possible movements around the airport to assess the challenges people with disabilities would face in the process of catching a flight. “This included putting Bulelwa onto the platform on a truck called the Passenger Aid Unit, which hoists wheelchair-bound passengers up to the aircraft,” Meyer said.
From a passenger’s point of view, Meyer says, they looked at various aspects to improve facilities and enable easy access for those confined to wheelchairs. “For instance, we created further parking bays for people with disabilities in the shaded parking area, as close to the terminal as we could. This allows those who are assisting them more time to help them out of the car and get them safely into the airport terminal.”
He says the stop-and-go areas in front of the terminals are for dropping off passengers within five minutes. “There is one drop-off area for people with disabilities adjacent to the stop-and-go section, but we recommend that the shaded parking be used if this parking space is not available.”
According to Meyer, they created more ablution facilities with clearly marked signs for wheelchair users within the concourses. “We have upgraded these facilities in the arrivals and departures terminals, while we have also created ramps in all sections of the airport to ensure easier access for those with mobility impairments,” he explains.
ACSA has also considered employees or visitors to its office blocks in terms of accessibility, with a wheelchair stair-lift having been installed at the bottom of the stairs. Meyer says this allows a wheelchair user to be placed on a platform with a safety barrier around the person, so that they can be moved electronically on a railing up and down the stairs. “This applies not only to wheelchair users but also to people on crutches who may have difficulty going up the stairs,” he says. The airport has also installed evacuation chairs (EVACs) at all the lifts and staircases.
“Moving forward, we will endeavour to incorporate the requirements and needs of people with physical disabilities into all future infrastructure and facility projects,” he concludes.