With 2010 World Cup soccer around the corner, everyone should be thinking about the inadequacies and deficiencies in the travel industry, especially with regard to disabled travellers. I wonder whether the country will ever be ready in time! It’s time to get onto my soap box and air my views!
One of the problems that crops up regularly is the issue of parking. At present, parking dispensations for people with disabilities is controlled by the individual municipalities. You usually have to apply for a disabled window display disk through the Independent Living Centre, or directly through your local traffic department branch.
However, each municipality has their own regulations, which makes for great confusion when you’re even thinking of travelling outside of your immediate area! You may think that you have a valid disk to display, but this is not always the case, and you can find yourself being fined for not adhering to the regulations stated by each municipality, let alone the 9 different provinces.
Also, there is currently no facility available to provide disabled window disks for foreign disabled visitors who want to hire and drive adapted cars while touring or visiting relatives in South Africa.
Surely there should be a system in place to coordinate such requirements. It should be controlled by a central office, preferably one like QASA which can assist with the logistics of handling travel related matters for the various disabilities. The conditions of issue can be set up together with the establishment of a central government office so that uniformity throughout the country is attained.
I feel that the disabled window display disk should be issued to a specific disabled person who keeps it handy at all times. This can then be displayed in ANY vehicle in which they may travel. For example, if you wish to fly to Cape Town and hire a car, you have your disk to enable you to park in a disabled parking bay.
At present there are various disks which are issued to either disabled drivers, or to able-bodied drivers who transport disabled people. Again, this brings into play a whole extra set of regulations, which would fall away if the disk were to be issued directly to the disabled individual – even if it is a child. There could also be re-validation facilities should the person’s disability be temporary.
This should also apply for incoming foreign visitors. A disabled tourist should be able to apply for a “Visitor Disk” which displays the dates that the visitor will be in the country, much like a Temporary Licence Plate, but with the international wheelchair sign together with the dates. Again, this should be made available to the disabled tourist directly, so that it can be used in any vehicle at any time and place in the country. Another reason for using an organisation like QASA for this purpose is that QASA is likely to be contacted via e-mail by disabled visitors with travel-related questions before they embark.
Other issues related to parking are that the government should standardise the size of disabled parking bays in public places and then have these enforced. A standard sized parking bay painted and designated for disabled drivers or passengers is USELESS as it cannot accommodate a wheelchair for driver or passenger transfer.
And for all those insensitive able-bodied drivers who insist on using disabled bay “for a few minutes”, perhaps a scathing window sticker might do the trick!
There are wonderful examples of sensitivity to the needs of disabled communities at the new Gateway shopping centre in Umhlanga, Natal. They have monitored bays for people with disabilities as well as mothers with children. This is so because there are people in the municipality who are knowledgeable, and can enforce the passing and monitoring of plans. So, let’s hear your views and maybe we can get the powers that be to listen. In the meantime, happy and safe travelling!