Better access for all in Muizenberg

Ashtan Davids needed help from his sister Megan Cross to gain entry to the public bathrooms. The City has an upgrade planned which will make all public spaces universally accessible.

There has been a massive win for inclusive, universal access in Muizenberg, with plans of a R4 million pilot project to upgrade all public spaces.

Universal access means easy access for wheelchair users, parents with prams, people with walking sticks or walkers and for the blind.

The call for proper access to all shops on the beachfront, and for user-friendly disabled toilets and kerbs, was raised by Ashtan Davids of the Believe in Schatzi Organisation (BISO) in conjunction with the Muizenberg Improvement District (MID) (“Call for access to wheelchair friendly ramps”, Echo, March 8).

Ashtan was diagnosed with spastic quadropareisis cerebral palsy when he was just six months old (“Ashtan reaches his greatest wave crest”, Echo, November 3, 2016).

At 15 he developed epilepsy. But locally Ashtan is known for his love of surfing.

He is also a Western Province ballroom chair dancer, has represented South Africa in Los Angeles in adaptive surfing and has been hard at work campaigning for universal access in Muizenberg.

In January 2016, MID had a site meeting with various City departments in Muizenberg. One of the discussion points was universal accessibility in Muizenberg.

It has been a long road but at the Sub-Council 19 meeting on Friday April 20, the City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA) Non-Motorised Transport/ Universal Accessibility Department presented their Muizenberg Universal Access assessment, which was met with approval.

This means that a pilot upgrade project has been approved for Muizenberg, and that the project will be implemented in a phased process, pending the availability of funding.

This announcement showcased a new level of collaboration between the City, an improvement district and civil society.

Ashtan, in conjunction with the MID and the City’s TDA, have developed a detailed plan together on how to change the road environment in Muizenberg to make public spaces truly accessible to all.

Ward councillor Felicity Purchase said that the pilot project is exciting. “It will take a few years to roll out, but now all new work will take the plan into consideration and be done accordingly,” she said.

Ashton’s sister, Megan Cross, spokesperson and member of BISO, said accessibility is a huge issue faced not only by people in wheelchairs, but by moms with prams and the elderly.

“Muizenberg beach with its beauty has become an inclusive recreational destination for families with young children in prams, or disabled persons and the area is home to many residents in frail care or homes for the aged,” Megan said.

Megan describes Muizenberg as a prime destination for people whose mobility is dependent on various assistive devices.

Ashtan’s own challenges in navigating the uneven kerbs and finding himself simply unable to access shops with no ramps or lifts for wheelchairs, led him to realise how design disabled and excluded residents and visitors by having these inaccessible public spaces. .

“BISO, together with MID, resolved to motivate and encourage the City to consider a Universal Accessibility upgrade project here in Muizenberg,” Megan said.

BISO has maintained an on-going awareness campaign; but beyond that, their advocacy has positioned Muizenberg beach as an inclusive surfing destination, offering adaptive surfing to children and adults of varying abilities.

BISO and MID have run regular events where community members, government representatives and officials have been invited to navigate the roads and pavements of Muizenberg in a wheelchair – so they can experience first hand the challenges faced by people with mobility issues.

Megan said that even though rights and laws exist in the constitution and the building code SANS10400-S-1, very few wheelchairs are seen in public, because the laws are often simply not adhered to.

“Without universal access many people in wheelchairs are housebound, which means they can’t work. They want to, they are capable of it, but they have no access in our public transport system. Many people are prisoners in their own communities simply because of lack of access,” Megan said. “The effect on the economy is not limited to a lack of earning potential – if they can’t access your shops they also can’t support your business,” Megan said.

Eddie Andrews, the mayoral committee member for area south, said the Muizenberg Universal Access Assessment Report was prepared with the purpose of highlighting accessibility issues in Muizenberg and to propose suitable solutions to not only provide universal access to various pedestrian needs, but also to promote and improve NMT facilities in the greater Muizenberg area.

“Several Universal Access strategies were evaluated according to their corresponding advantages, disadvantages, appropriateness for implementation and specific design considerations. These strategies were used in the concept and preliminary design phase to propose universal access and NMT improvements to 42 intersections/locations in the greater Muizenberg area. It was calculated that it will cost approximately R4 million to implement the proposed improvements,” Mr Andrews said.

The proposed improvements will be implemented when budget becomes available.

Mr Andrews the City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority is committed to creating inclusive spaces across the city that are universally accessible to all residents and visitors, including the elderly and people with disabilities.

He said in the short term, universal access improvements such as dropped kerbs at crossing points, as well as brailed and audible traffic signals for the blind, are included in the road reserve.

Universal Access improvements in the city (including Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek) are included when work takes place in the road reserve.

Mr Andrews praised Ashtan and his family. “We encourage active citizenry because Cape Town belongs to the residents who keep these spaces alive. For this reason, we appreciate that Ashtan and his family have taken the initiative to work with the City towards creating a more universally accessible Muizenberg, which all our residents and visitors can enjoy.”

Mr Andrews said that part of the motivation for the Universal Access assessment of the area came from the information Ashtan provided about the role of Muizenberg as a location for adaptive surfing – giving people with different abilities the opportunity to access and enjoy the beachfront and the beach.