Fighting for equality

While big strides have been made to improve the accessibility of public transport, many people with disabilities are being left behind. Is it time for the disability community to take matters into their own hands?

As we exit transport month and enter Disability Rights Awareness Month, I want to share my opinion on both these vital issues. Huge strides have been made in the rollout and delivery of accessible public transport. I acknowledge the role players who made this possible, but public transport still is inadequate and not inclusive.

There are still too many people left stranded on the pavement and at home while the economy moves on without them. People with disabilities require safe, secure, accessible, integrated and affordable public transport. The provision of accessible public transport is a mandate in various legislations, including the Constitution of South Africa, the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Land Transport Act.

People with disabilities – young and old – have been unable to integrate into society because this basic need for accessible transport has not been met. Without transport, public space and an inclusive built environment, people with disabilities cannot access jobs, generate an income or participate equality in society, as the Constitution requires.

Inaccessible transport denies us our right to access goods and services. We are discriminated against and treated unequally. Equality ensures that individuals or groups of individuals are treated fairly and no less favourably than another group. It is the right of all people to have their social position respected and to be treated equally.

Maybe it is time to rethink how things have been done up until now. Maybe the disability sector should unite, rise and claim this one right. Let us use the focus on the awareness of our rights and make it count. There are numerous opportunities waiting if this one right is realised – but if it is not, what steps can be taken?

The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, also referred to as the Equality Act, could be used to ensure that this right is realised.

Proceedings under the Equality Act may be instituted by any person acting in their own interest, in the interest of someone unable to act on their own behalf, in the interest of a group or in public interest. Associations acting in the interests of its members or even the South African Human Rights Commission can institute proceedings.

And there is more … It is the duty of the state and constitutional institutions to assist any person who wishes to institute proceedings in terms of or under the Equality Act. Hopefully we don’t have to go this far and those in power will relook plans to ensure everyone is included.

I trust you all will have a safe and inclusive festive season. All the best for 2020!

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