Gautrain bridges the gap

Joseph Machweu, chairperson of Impumelelo Self-help Centre in Springs, and chairperson of the QuadPara Association of Gauteng South, gave the Gautrain his stamp of approval

Machweu’s life changed forever in an instant 10 years ago, when he was shot one morning on his way to work. “At the time, I worked at was then known as Rennies Bank – now Bidvest Bank. It was my turn to get to work early that day as I had the key to unlock the vault. But I never made it there.”

He says for a long time he was in denial after receiving the news that he was a complete C5/C6 quadriplegic. “I didn’t even want to talk about the shooting and what had happened. Eventually I met some people who coached me and pointed me in the right direction and I went to what is now the Life Riverfield Lodge Rehab Centre, near Fourways in Johannesburg. I was discharged in 2007 after four months. With the guidance of my physiotherapist, my occupational therapist and my social worker, I was able to carry on with my life.”

Joseph Machweu radiates optimism wherever he goes.

Machweu then moved into the Impumelelo Self-Help Centre in Springs, but it wasn’t long before there were problems with management and there was talk of the centre closing down. Fortunately, new management was brought in and Machweu was elected chairperson of the centre – a position he still holds today.

However, it was in his capacity as chairperson of the QuadPara Association of Gauteng South that Machweu was part of a group that took a tour as a region to test the accessibility of the Gautrain system for people with disabilities.

Gautrain’s mission in terms of the disability sector is to provide convenient access for wheelchairs, and also to ease travelling for passengers with walking difficulties. According to Gautrain Management Agency CEO, Mr Jack van der Merwe, “Level boarding is a long-time feature of global underground railways. Matching the height and minimising the gap between Gautrain’s coach floor and the platform means easy access for people with mobility impairments and wheelchair users. For people with difficulties in walking or balancing, features such as non-slip surfaces and handrails are provided. Space is also allocated for wheelchairs in a designated area on each train.”

The accessible level of the ticket machine accommodates wheelchair users and those with mobility impairments.

It seems they have succeeded. Machweu comments: “I think the Gautrain is very accessible and user-friendly. The most impressive feature for me is that the platform is actually in line with the height of the train, making it easy for wheelchair users to get in and out.”

Gautrain’s station environments are also designed to ease access for the mobility impaired. Wide access gates make provision for wheelchairs. The accessible levels of ticket vending machines, toilets and lift designs all accommodate wheelchair users and those with mobility impairments. The window level at the ticket office is within easy reach for those in wheelchairs.

In addition, passengers travelling to and from the airport will find several measures in place to ease mobility. Lifts at Gautrain’s OR Tambo International Airport are able to accommodate both luggage trolleys and walking aids or wheelchairs. Arrangements are in place with the Airports Company of South Africa to ensure a steady supply of luggage trolleys in the unpaid concourse. Design features at Sandton Station and the interiors of airport coaches accommodate the needs of wheelchair users or those with mobility impairments that are carrying luggage.

On Gautrain’s dedicated Bus Link, low entrance floors, wide doorways and folding ramps make it easier for passengers who have walking difficulties or those who need to use wheelchairs. Inside the buses, wheelchair positions are fitted in accordance with the best practice designs available.

In all instances, Gautrain strives to comply with statutory requirements as well as industry best practices.

Machweu concludes: “It’s a comfortable way to travel and it saves so much time. The only disadvantage for those of us who live in the townships is that there are no stations there for us, so we can’t really make use of the system.”

For more information visit www.gautrain.co.za or call 0800 42887246.

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