The SPAR Wheelchair Wednesday campaign seems to be gaining momentum as it continues to raise awareness about the challenges faced by people with physical disabilities. A joint initiative by SPAR Eastern Cape and the Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities (APD), the campaign has been run every August since 2011.
The campaign encourages local business and community leaders to spend four hours in a wheelchair on one Wednesday in August and to carry out basic everyday tasks. The aim, says APD chief executive Brian Bezuidenhout, is to increase awareness and see improvements made to better the lives of people with mobility impairments.
Since 2011, a total of 1 300 Nelson Mandela Bay residents have each spent four hours in a wheelchair and there has been some encouraging feedback. Last week it was the turn of Linton Grange SPAR owner Brett Muzzell to spend time in a wheelchair again (he first participated in the inaugural 2011 campaign).
“The experience of spending time in a wheelchair is a humbling one. You gain a true perspective of the challenges faced by people with physically disabilities just to complete everyday ‘normal’ tasks. Nothing is easily accomplished and patience is the key. Every task takes that much longer to complete,” Muzzell said.
He compared his experiences last week with those he faced in the 2011 campaign: “Compared with my first four hours in a wheelchair, things seem to have generally improved within our city. There seems to be a greater awareness of the needs of people with disabilities.”
He paid tribute to the APD team for getting their message across and encouraging people and organisations to be more aware of the challenges and requirements necessary to assist people with physical disabilities.
Bezuidenhout added that participants of Wheelchair Wednesday did far more than just spend four hours in a wheelchair. “The observations we have received over the seven years of the project’s existence has resulted in some serious changes in both structural and attitudinal matters. Brett Muzzell’s continuing passion for the cause goes a long way to changing lives,” he said.
International JTI representatives Pat Mostert and Lucius Charles were among the volunteers at Mount Pleasant Super SPAR. Mostert said they were again amazed at the challenges they faced, but were also happy to report that there had been some improvements.
“For instance, going to the post office was a breeze and a very positive experience,” she said. “We also found the staff in shops most helpful in difficult situations, for example, when it was impossible to reach products on high shelves. However, we did come across toilets in some shopping malls that were impossible to access, so that’s obviously something that needs attention.”
She added that it was an eye-opening experience to again appreciate just how difficult certain actions, such as getting in and out of cars, were for people with disabilities. She noted that her company is aware of many of the challenges through its philanthropy policy in partnership with the APD.
“We work with the adult centre at APD PE to provide support for the people there in any way we can. It helps us to understand the issues they face on a daily basis,” she said.
Wheelchair Wednesday takes place on every Wednesday in August. For further information contact Brian Bezuidenhout at 041 484 5426 or firstname.lastname@example.org.