We spotlight one municipality in the country that is making some serious and effective changes in the field of Universal Access.
It is an ongoing struggle to obtain high-level commitments from authorities who claim to be serious about the adoption of Universal Access (UA) principles. Presentations and workshops on the need for inclusion and the benefits of designing for diversity seldom lead to tangible results. But, once understood, UA inspires people to start making a positive difference in our world by including people with different needs.
Stellenbosch Municipality is making great strides towards becoming a user-centric, universally accessible municipality. Its journey started early in 2014 when the Helderberg Association for Persons with Disabilities (APD) invited the municipality to participate in their Wheelchair Wednesday campaign, which was designed to create awareness for municipal staff and people from the community of Stellenbosch regarding the needs of people with disabilities.
This very first Wheelchair Wednesday sparked a move within the municipality to make progressive changes. This led to a subsequent sensitisation workshop with the TOP 40 municipal managers, and before the close of that year, the municipality drafted its first Disability Policy. Then in partnership with Helderberg APD, the municipality organised the inaugural meeting of the Stellenbosch Disability Network (SDN) on October 29, 2014.
In 2015 things moved fast: the municipality had a review conducted on the accessibility of their infrastructure (both owned and leased) as well as their operations and procedures to analyse how they could serve their clients better. UDAfrica was appointed to run the review process throughout the municipality, releasing its detailed findings in a 3 000-page report indicating areas of compliance and non-compliance with national buildings regulations (SANS 10400 Part S of 2011). The municipality participated in Casual Day and together with the SDN hosted a two-day discussion forum and exhibition entitled “Let’s Talk about Disability”, which brought together people from different walks of life to have honest conversations about disability and employment, education, family life, wellness, sport and accessibility. The forum was facilitated by various experts from academia, local service providers and community leaders.
By the end of 2015, the findings of the reviews conducted on infrastructure and operations were taken to council and each councillor and Top 40 Management Member was provided with an electronic copy of the report. To follow up, the municipality designed a strict and dedicated programme around UA for the 2016 calendar year.
This year the Stellenbosch Municipality has reached ground-breaking heights in its drive towards UA on all levels. Of course, it hasn’t all been straightforward: mind-sets have to be changed before all people are included in all processes, information sharing and access to facilities and services. But it is in the process of overcoming these barriers and is showing itself to be dedicated, committed and hardworking, to ensure that everyone benefits from UA.
Authors: Phillip Thompson and Colette Fransolet (with permission from Helderberg Association for Persons with Disabilities and Stellenbosch Municipality)
Universal Design Africa (UDAfrica) sees universal design as a vehicle to create and enhance the functionality of environments, services and products for the widest range of users, recognising the diversity of the human condition. The UDAfrica team aims to create awareness, disseminate information and improve lives.