Earlier this month, the Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, officially launched South Africa’s Disability Rights Awareness Month 2021, under the theme: “The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke – Create and realise an inclusive society upholding rights of persons with disabilities”
. The United Nations adopted the theme “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-Covid-19 world”.
Andre Michau, Director of Afroteq Advisory
Andre Michau, Director of Afroteq Advisory, who himself has an immediate family member that is disabled, states that an estimated 15% of the global population, equating to more than one billion people, currently live with a disability. “In South Africa, approximately 5 million (or 1 in ten) South Africans are disabled. As a nation, we need to look critically at our corporate and commercial spaces to make sure they accommodate the special needs of these citizens. It is our civic duty to remove any barriers to entry that might make it difficult or hard for them to contribute to the economy and compete fairly in the job market,” he says.
When it comes to the protection and rights of persons with disabilities, South Africa’s overarching framework remains the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996), which states in the Bill of Rights that “everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.” No person or body, including the State and private companies, may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on one or more grounds including race, gender, colour, age or disability.
The UN also states that employment and working conditions must be responsive to accessibility and inclusive to persons with disabilities. Employers and workplaces must provide user-friendly environments and reasonable workplace adjustments based on the individual needs of their employees with disabilities. Statistics pertaining to the employment of people with disabilities in South Africa, indicate that the country is falling far short of the national target and international benchmarks.
“The corporate and professional world still has a long way to go when it comes to levelling the playing field and creating an inclusive environment for people living with disabilities. Only recently we saw how Israel's Energy Minister, Karine Elharrar, was unable to participate in the United Nation's COP26 summit held in Glasgow due to the fact that the venue was not wheelchair accessible, and that the shuttle which transported delegates to the event was also not suited for a wheelchair. All of this highlights the need to become truly mindful about transforming places of work and public spaces so that they are truly accommodating to everybody’s needs,” Michau says.
As specialist advisors to the built environment, Afroteq Advisory assists companies in transforming their workplaces into spaces that are accessible, safe and welcoming to differently abled employees and visitors. With their expert knowledge of workflow, strategic space planning and design and understanding of spatial needs, Afroteq Advisory conducts accessibility audits to evaluate companies’ universal access and compliance to legislation.
“An inaccessible built environment directly impacts on a person with disabilities’ ability to access healthcare and other much-needed services. This is particularly true if they are not able to use public transportation. Many buildings – including healthcare facilities – are not built with universal design principles in mind. Buildings that do not have ramps or grab rails, for example, generally pose significant challenges for persons with mobility impairments,” Michau explains.
There are several obstacles that could potentially be barriers for persons who have mobility, intellectual and visual impairments, which result in their increased vulnerability. These include uneven and rocky surfaces, things like steps, steep inclines, escalators, bollards, turnstiles, revolving doors, uneven or loose surfaces, display boards or bins as these could hamper a disabled person’s ability to get around safely; light switches, power plugs as well as lift operating buttons that are placed too high and out of reach for somebody in a wheelchair, and consider a reception counter that is wheelchair friendly.
“We encourage businesses to take a critical look at their office space and judge it from the perspective of somebody who is disabled. In the same way our nation is becoming environmentally conscious, sustainable and responsible, we also need to become socially sensitive, caring and accountable by becoming mindful about making our public and corporate spaces accessible and inclusive. Doing it need not be an overwhelming task - simply start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and before you know it, we’ve done the impossible!” Michau concludes.
For more information, visit www.afroteq.co.za