THE Association for Persons with Disabilities (APD) in Port Elizabeth took a unique approach to launching their third annual Wheelchair Wednesday yesterday – by staging a tongue-in- cheek silent protest.
They did it by blocking off 15 parking bays with wheelchairs in Paterson Road, North End.
The campaign is aimed at raising awareness regarding issues relating to accessibility for people with disabilities within the business environment in Nelson Mandela Bay.
The project involves 100 able-bodied business people being wheelchair bound for four hours so they can realise the challenges faced by disabled people every day.
The campaign will run for five consecutive Wednesdays in July.
APD executive director Brian Bezuidenhout said the campaign had grown in the three years since it started, with 250 wheelchairs having been donated and R1-million raised.
“Initially we were able to gather R260000 towards wheelchairs. This year we are expecting R680000 and we will be handing out 100 wheelchairs at the end of the event to beneficiaries who have been specifically identified as extremely needy.
“The point is to have business leaders and big personalities take part, people who are the decision makers and are able actually to make a tangible difference to making the life of the disabled more manageable in their stores and so on.” Those interested contribute R5000 each to participate.
Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) Port Elizabeth Airport manager Azad Cassim believes it is money well spent. “This is the third time I have participated in the event and it is well worth getting to know what it is like to be in that position.
“We have since undergone several renovations at the airport to make it more wheelchair-friendly as a result of this project,” Cassim said.
Wendy Westraadt, promotions and advertising manager at Spar – the campaign’s main sponsor – said her participation last year had been a lifechanging experience.
“One does not realise the challenge involved in simple things like climbing in and out of a car or shopping.
“And the event definitely opens one’s eyes from a business perspective. I realised when I participated that our Spar distribution plant is not wheelchair friendly,” Westraadt said.
APD recruitment manager Laura Schrief said she hoped the campaign would help employ the host of capable workers within APD who could not be placed because of their disabilities.
“This campaign will hopefully open business leaders’ eyes to realising that we [people with disabilities] are just as capable should the working environment allow us to be.
“I was born with a genetic disorder and have been in a wheelchair all my life. It is encouraging to see so many people willing to be a part of making this type of difference,” Schrief said.
ýAnyone wishing to participate, should contact Bezuidenhout on 082- 450-3581. – Tremaine van Aardt