Universally accessible eThekwini

With most South Africans with disabilities living in KwaZulu-Natal, it is only logical that the major city in this province addresses their needs. ANLERIE DE WET takes a look at eThekwini

Nina Saunders, a city architect at eThekwini Municipality, says the City acknowledges that its infrastructure needs to be more universally accessible, despite the strides it has made toward its accessibility goals.

“All the City’s new building assets that are developed by the Architecture Department have to comply with SANS 201400 Part S of the National Building Regulations – which deals with Universal Accessibility (UA),” she says. “The City has over
7 500 building assets and the retro-fit of these existing buildings has been actively undertaken.”

She explains that the department was provided with and expended a budget of R2 million per financial year from 2012 to 2015, to apply UA principles to the City’s public buildings.

“These were undertaken in the form of provision of dedicated disabled persons’ parking with associated covering, signage and ramps for accessibility to various halls, swimming pools and service centres around the City,” says Saunders.

In 2016 the City launched several public transport options, such as the use of Sukuma buses and Dial-A-Ride transport, under the Go!Durban project, which is tailored for people with disabilities.

These wheelchair-friendly forms of vehicle transport are reasonably priced and have been made available to accommodate people with disabilities, their assistants, guide dogs and necessary portable medical equipment.

Hiten Bawa, a universal design architect and owner of Studio HB, says the Umhlanga area is wheelchair accessible in some places. “The feature of the City’s accessible infrastructure that I am most impressed with is the promenade and the landscaping along the beachfront,” says Bawa.

“I would say the most important aspect of the city’s infrastructure that still needs to be made universally accessible is the public transport between popular resorts or hilly areas.”

Saunders says it is the City’s ambition to be Africa’s most caring and livable city by 2030, and, to make this happen, everyone needs to be catered for.

The City’s main focus on achieving this goal is to prioritise access to public buildings.

“A significant drive is underway to assess all public-building compliance. The Architecture Department is currently working with the City’s Human Resource Department in undertaking this assessment,” says Saunders.

She explains that the City will compile a comprehensive accessibility matrix, which will indicate limitations around compliance, assist in prioritising buildings for compliance and help develop project plans to undertake UA compliance.

“The results of the current assessment with the development of the clear action plans will enable the City to share information on annual targets with affected groups,” says Saunders.

Although access to public buildings is the priority, the City is also targeting compliance within its own office buildings, which should help boost the employment of persons with disabilities.

She says the construction of the City’s own Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPTN) also falls under the Go!Durban project, which is expected to be fully operational by 2027 and, will provide further opportunities for people with disabilities.

“Access to public buildings as well as public space is critical for active participation by all the citizens,” she notes.

The IRPTN is the City’s largest infrastructure project to date, with an estimated value of R22 billion, will comprise nine corridors. The aim is to implement a world-class network of road and rail transport to provide at least 85 percent of residents with efficient and cost-effective transport.

“All buildings related to the IRPTN and urban landscaping, such as the pavements, need to comply with the National Building Regulations,” says Saunders. “Currently the IRPTN team are compiling a Way Finding Disability policy for the entire eThekwini transport system in order to create uniform signage across the City, which will also address illiteracy.”

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