Onwards to a barrier-free society

Everyone needs to work together to eliminate the barriers that are preventing people with disabilities from fully participating in their community

Whenever I’m confronted with the need to define disability or to justify my position in society as a person with a disability, I am faced with a dilemma. Do I use everything I have in my arsenal to insist on being granted my rightful place in the community? Or do I look for a changed, transformed or even innovative way of communicating the need for my basic human rights to be respected?

Do I point out that the only accessible pay point in the supermarket is also the only till that is closed? Should I argue with the staff at the check-in counter of certain airlines about their policies that dictate that I cannot fly on my own? Or try to convince the service provider of accessible public transport that I am a wheelchair user who still needs transport to and from work – and that I was placed on the waiting list four years ago?

I do wonder how we can circumvent the need to prove to society that all we need is a fair chance, an equal opportunity to do everyday things like learn, work and play, just like everyone else on this planet. The trouble is that we are guided by man-made laws and the very way in which we are interpreting these laws often restricts us.

Legislation defines a person with a disability as “any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or who has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment”. Impairment is the abnormality itself, and a disability is the restriction that is caused by the abnormality.

If that is the case, the restriction or barrier should be removed. Whose duty is it to remove these barriers? We have to do it ourselves. A collective effort has to be made. The fact is that it’s not always possible for people with disabilities to participate fully in the community. There are various barriers that we face, which often exclude us and our families. These barriers must be removed – but by the appropriate person.

Here is a chance to participate in an activity that will benefit everyone. If you can see yourself as being able to adapt, change or transform to become that appropriate person, take this opportunity to change. Pledge to be that caring person you know you could be by paying special attention not only to the needs of people with disabilities, but also to the gifts they have to share.

Commit yourself to removing all those barriers – and remember they are not always physical barriers. Let us communicate our special needs and work towards getting them met. One such barrier is the attitude of some people towards people with disabilities, which can make us feel unwelcome. It can also be a lack of communication, and the breakdown of the communication barrier is an important step towards transforming society. Let us all be aware of these barriers, learn to eliminate them and, after overcoming them, use this new barrier-free position to the advantage of everyone.


Raven Benny is the chairperson of QASA. He has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married with five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He also plays for Maties. email: rbenny@pgwc.gov.za

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