New Year’s resolutions for the disability community

Over the decades, massive strides have been made in assistive devices, employment and the rights of people with disabilities. However, there is room for improvement. MARISKA MORRIS chats to the ROLLING INSPIRATION contributors and team to hear their views.

This year saw several encouraging developments. In the United Kingdom, for example, activists pushed for accessible bathrooms with changing tables; the world’s lightest wheelchair, made from graphene, was designed by Swiss firm Küschall; and NASA engineer Salim Nasser introduced a new wheel that reduces shoulder injuries among manual wheelchair users.

Locally, QASA launched its Driving Ambitions programme in Cape Town, while wheelchair tennis player Kgothatso Montjane became the first black South African female tennis player to compete at the Wimbledon Championship.

However, there is still much that needs to be improved. For QASA CEO Ari Seirlis, the biggest stride in improving the lives of people with disabilities was the publication of the White Paper on the rights of people with disabilities.

“The challenge is to ensure that all people with disabilities understand the significance of this document. They are slowly starting to understand that they have rights with legal support mechanisms,” Seirlis says. He argues that it is important for government to support the legislation with a sufficient budget.

The Department of Health, for example, needs to provide people with disabilities with the necessary assistive devices and quality, affordable healthcare, while the Department of Transport needs to ensure there is sufficient, accessible transport available.

Leon Fleiser, sports contributor for ROLLING INSPIRATION, believes budget is also a challenge for the sporting community. Athletes with disabilities are included in more mainstream sports, but require more funding.

He notes: “All sporting codes need to embrace this principle of including people with disabilities and more funding is needed for the development and equipment for adaptive sports.”

ROLLING INSPIRATION employment contributor Rustim Ariefdien believes that the Employment Equity and Skills Development Act is making a difference, but that there needs to be a drastic uptake in employment to achieve the 7,5 percent target.

“Skills development opportunities have increased tremendously over the past year. As BBBEE becomes more stringent, companies are trying to obtain additional points that include disability,” he explains.

Learnerships offered through the BBBEE system offer people with disabilities the opportunity to learn valuable skills and earn a stipend. Learnerships offered through QASA has even led to permanent employment for some members.

Ariefdien explains: “According to the latest report from the Commission, only a small percent of the formal working population is persons with disabilities. A target of 7,5 percent should be achieved. A greater uptake in learnerships would have a significant impact on disability employment.”

He adds that the Department of Labour has started a programme to provide 12-month skills interventions for 3,45 million people over the next three years, which should include over 330 000 learners with disabilities, theoretically.

Ariefdien has set his own ambitious goals for 2019: “I hope to catalyse at least 10 000 learnerships for persons with disabilities in 2019. To date, I have only achieved about 500 on average – a personal very, very tall order!”

Deborah Rudman, ROLLING INSPIRATION’s copy editor, says: “From what I’ve seen in South Africa over the past 13 years, discernible improvements have been made in the approach towards, and provision made for, people with disabilities: access to shops, banks, transport, theatres, toilets and parking areas has improved. Legislative tools have been introduced to combat discrimination in employment.

“People without disabilities, though, appear to remain largely unaware of the challenges faced by those with disabilities, or if they are aware, the initial reaction often seems to be to turn away. This is a mind-set that can be changed – like anything, you need to be exposed to something before you can understand it or put yourself in that person’s shoes.

“How about a TV channel? There are so many already, dedicated to numerous interests – cooking, home makeovers, fashion, entertainment, soccer, celebs famous for nothing more than, well, being famous. Think how much we could learn from watching a regular channel featuring people with disabilities from all walks of life, vocations and interests, from sport and careers to general living!

“Doing things like other people – with the same aspirations, achievements and hopes, with the same sense of fun … And the title of the programme? ‘A World of Ability’.”

Editor of ROLLING INSPIRATION, Charleen Clarke notes: “In South Africa, I believe that we have a long way to go if we want to make massive changes to the lives of people with disabilities. First and foremost, I would like to see a massive – and tangible – change in the mind-sets of big companies and their approach to people with disabilities.

“I would encourage our readers to take a look at the pages of ROLLING INSPIRATION. How many big companies do you see that are supporting this magazine?”

The same can be said for other initiatives aimed at supporting people with disabilities. Clarke urges companies to spend less on expensive team-building exercises and invest more in people with disabilities.

“They could very easily make a small investment in ROLLING INSPIRATION. In so doing, they would be investing in the lives of wheelchair users and people with disabilities. ROLLING INSPIRATION is a lifeline to many wheelchair users. It’s absolutely invaluable! I know this thanks to the regular messages I receive from our readers. I just wish that the corporate fat cats could share my sentiments,” Clarke concludes.

As the lifestyle publication for people with mobility impairments in South Africa, we aim to continue to publish inspirational and informative articles to help our readers live a full life in an inaccessible society. You can assist us with submitting inspirational stories, suggestions or commentary to mariska@charmont.co.za. Let’s make 2019 a year for disability awareness!

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