As I write, it’s the International Day for Persons with Disabilities (3rd December 2004) – a time for us to celebrate successes and bring new focus to our challenges all over the world.
In South Africa the Access 2004 conference was themed to link a decade of democracy with “achievements, practices and challenges”. I have a great deal of enthusiasm and joy for our freedom and the removal of apartheid; and I celebrate that with vigour. I’m much less upbeat about the lot and the lives of South Africans with disabilities.
We’ve got kilograms of paper in legislation, but we’re badly down on delivery.
Why do I say that? In spite of new laws specifically for the disabled, and other more general legislation, very little is actually happening. If you use a wheelchair for mobility you still can’t easily get onto a bus or a train or a travelator or a taxi. There are many, many public service buildings which are inaccessible, which is actually against the law. Restaurants, hotels, parks, beaches, sports stadiums, shopping malls, offices, toilets, game parks, theatres and cinemas? There are some wonderful examples of those that have got it right, and they must be applauded. But for every one you find like that, you’ll find 10 that just haven’t even started recognising accessibility, let alone enabling it.
And the work thing hasn’t come right. Indeed: in nett terms the Employment Equity Act has not brought a single extra job for persons with disabilities within the designated group. Zero.
Somehow, in spite of having 20 people with disabilities elected to office at national and provincial level, and some excellent laws in place, we’re just not getting it right.
At another level, I’ve been thrilled to see how South African democracy has transformed relationships socially and politically. Black, white, brown – whatever – people are just people, they relate well, they interact together, they socialise, they play sport; look at the younger setâ€¦ it’s just wonderful! Sadly that same mindset transformation doesn’t seem to have worked for people with disabilities: we’re still seen as different; we still have to use the back doors of buildings, because the “public” ones have steps, or whatever.
So, where to now?
Well, it just means greater effort, doesn’t it?
On the law side, people with disabilities should take every opportunity to point out the obstacles the law says shouldn’t be there. Go further even: why don’t we use the Equality Court, the Constitutional Court, the Human Rights Commission?
On the mindset side awareness is the key. QASA’s Quad Squad Day, the Kyalami power-chair race, the Quad for Quads drive, our Arrive Alive “Buckle Up” campaign, our Bags of Hope – the focus is to put us in the public’s eye.
It’s a big list, and it’s growing. If you’ve got an awareness idea, tell us about it.