This just might be the year when we get it right!!
A really significant grouping of associations representing a wide spectrum of the interests of people with disabilities, has submitted vital proposals to the authorities. It’s the most important call for the restructuring of laws which are inadequate and which presently prevent accessibility and integration. If our proposals are recognised and implemented, we will celebrate in 2007 as we never have before!
A relatively small item sparked a unique joint effort. A CSIR Committee re-framing a relatively minor and unimportant part of the National Building Regulations distributed its proposals and called for comment. QASA took a view that limiting response to just this one area (which related to a detail about accessibility) would be pointless. Even if we were successful, we would still sit with overall legislation which does not do the whole job.
A completely refreshed overall approach was required. We found we were not alone in our viewpoint. Soon we had formalised a group of associations consisting of QASA, the National Council for People with Disabilities, the Cheshire Homes, the SA National Council for the Blind and the Cerebral Palsy Association.
Quite rapidly, meetings were held; plans were laid; funds were allocated. A strategy (which included commitment to substantially funded expert research into ways of getting closer to universal design principles as a norm, and not as an exception) began to roll out. In November we redrafted, in January the submission was lodged.
It has been a truly massive project, and the end-product is very worthwhile. Clearly this is the most comprehensive initiative of its kind ever, in South Africa. Our proposals are a Big Ask: it will take commitment and the will from the very highest leaders in the country through a number of Departments and ministries; as well as from our own sector, for it to be accepted and implemented.
When THAT happens we will have achieved true empowerment for everyone who moves around in this country – be it on their own, in private or on public transport, or within buildings and homes.
“Everyone” in that context cuts across all kinds of mobility – from the seriously impaired to the fully mobile. Universal design principals in their purest form have that complete application by their very definition.
There is also another more vast symbolism in what we have done. Finally, after decades of tip-toeing around the issues, we are coming out and saying this:
For accessibility to be achieved, the regulations must change. There is no other way. Until now the mobility impaired have been bound and hindered by the inadequate and outdated regulations. We must throw these shackles. We must introduce ones that work.
And when that happens, we won’t only achieve greatly enhanced mobility and access, we will empower this nation in so many other wonderful ways. We will declare a Freedom Day with a different connotation:
Everyone will be freed to move around without ill-considered impediments put in their way, by default or by just not knowing how to get it right.
Everyone will be able to work anywhere, giving new meaning and freedom to the Employment Equity Act;
Everyone will be able to go and watch the sports they want to watch, not just the ones they can get to and sit at;
Everyone will do the recreation of their choice – not just those few that are accessible;
Everyone will go to public rail and bus stations and use the transport.
We have cut through the platitudes which say: “our wheelchairs free us!” Instead we are saying: “the present regulations restrict and curtail us” They just have to go.
We will keep you posted through 2007.