Call on access to wheelchair friendly ramps

Ashtan Davids tries to enter the disabled toilets on a short steep ramp; this is almost impossible without the help of his sister Megan Cross.

For nine years the Believe in Schatzi Organisation (BISO)has been asking for the basics of universal access to buildings and public transport for people in wheelchairs, mothers with prams, the elderly with walkers and people who are blind or who use crutches.

The reality is that along the beach facing stores in Muizenberg, only four stores provide shop front access for wheelchairs.

In addition, the wheelchair ramp to Muizenberg train station has been locked for years. While Metrorail spokesperson Riana Scott would not be drawn on how many years, BISO says that in the nine years they have been campaigning, the gates have never been open.

Megan Cross says the railway crossing is a nightmare for wheelchair users as the wheels of their chairs get stuck in the train tracks.

Her younger brother Ashtan Davids was diagnosed with spastic quadropareisis cerebral palsy at six months old.

“We offer adaptive surfing lessons to people who have what we call differ-abilites or are differently abled. The Smile and Wave Surf Therapy sessions offered in conjunction with Inclusive Surfing South Africa mean the world to every participant. However, when they arrive here, they battle to park, or move around, and especially to use the bathrooms: things that able bodied people don’t need to give a moment’s thought to,” Megan says.

Ashtan made history as the first person with cerebral palsy to compete in the World Adaptive Surfing Championship in Ja Jolla, Los Angeles, in 2016.

Currently, The Surf Shack, Gaslight Cafe, Primi Piatti and Knead are the only shops with access for wheelchairs, prams and walkers from their front doors: four out of 17 sea-facing shops.

On Saturday February 24, BISO had an “inclusively minded” challenge and invited people to make their way through Muizenberg in a wheelchair to experience first hand what it was like. This was done in conjunction with Inclusive Surfing South Africa, the Muizenberg Lakeside Resident’s Association and Muizenberg Improvement District.

Etienne Lassalas is an exchange student working at The Hive in Muizenberg and was one of those who took up the challenge.

He said the biggest challenge was to cross the railway near Muizenberg station. “As I tried to cross in the wheelchair my wheels got caught and I was stuck on the railway line when the gates closed,” Etienne said. “Fortunately I can use my legs so I jumped off the chair and some one else grabbed the chair and we pulled it to the side so the train could pass,” he said.

“Also, it was really difficult to move straight when the side walk is tilted. We don’t think about that when we are walking,” he said.

“This experience taught me that it is really difficult to move about in a urban context in a wheelchair and seems to be almost impossible if nobody can assist you,” he said.

Kevin Rack, secretary of BISO and member of the board for Muizenberg Improvement District and Muizenberg and Lakeside Ratepayers’ Association, said national building guidelines have not been adhered to properly – or at all. Kevin pointed out kerb cuts that are not flush with the road and ramps that are too steep; ramps for wheelchair access are meant to be at a 12 to 15 degree slant for ease of use.

Megan pointed out that there is no wheelchair access from the parking lot by the water slides. “This offers us no access to Law Enforcement,” Megan
said.

The ramp at the men’s bathrooms for the “disabled” under the promenade near the putt-putt course is short and very steep; Ashtan is always worried that his wheelchair will tip backwards.

To add to their difficulties, Megan said during December last year, Ashtan and BISO recorded and lodged 456 parking transgressions where people without disabled parking discs used the three wheelchair-only parking bays.

Ms Scott acknowledged that the South African rail commuter system is not yet fully universally accessible, but to make them so is one of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA) priorities. “All new assets, facilities and trains have levels of access as determined by the policy guidelines,” she said.

She said all new trains have universal access provision for people with disabilities including wide access doors and automatic open/close doors.

However, until these are in place, Metrorail has a register of users that require special assistance. This is to ensure that station staff help customers to travel with dignity.

“We encourage commuters with special transport needs to contact their respective station managers to ensure that they receive the necessary assistance,” she said.

Eddie Andrews, the City’s mayoral committee member for area south, said the City would be happy to engage with BISO on the issues raised. Mr Andrews said that criterion 33 of the International Blue Flag Standards means that at least one Blue Flag beach in each municipality must have access and facilities provided for the physically disabled.

He said one complication at Muizenberg is that the beach is unsheltered, resulting in sand deposits on the pathways on a near daily basis.

“In addition, the ramp is situated below the high water mark which also presents a challenge during high tide and very windy conditions,” he said.

Mr Andrews said that an ablution block for disabled people below the promenade, opposite the pool entrance, was revamped in 2017; the ramp was extended and the door was custom-made to allow for wheelchair access and a railing on this ramp.

A preliminary design study for Muizenberg was undertaken in September 2017 by the Transport Planning branch to assess the issue of mobility within the area. He said pending funding availability, the project will be implemented.

Mr Andrews said that (Part S) of SANS 10400 which deals with universal access is strictly enforced since the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act was amended in 1986, and it is applicable to all new commercial building plans.

“The shop owners must make sure their buildings are universally accessible, according to the National Building Regulations,” Mr Andrews said.

This includes the provision of designated disabled persons parking bays and accessible routes from the parking area via access ramps to the entrance to the premises. Stairways, handrails and the provision of disabled persons toilet facilities must be indicated on the plans if applicable. Before 1986, disabled access into buildings was not a requirement.

And in terms of the Transport and Urban Development Authority Directorate, all new trans-
port facilities, MyCiTi fleet and stops, sidewalks and intersections, traffic signals and road up-
grades and bridges are required to comply with the City’s Trans-
port Universal Access Policy
2014.

Mr Andrews said, with regards the parking infringements, that the City’s Traffic Services Department attends to any and all parking offences in the Muizenberg area on an ad hoc basis. Any vehicles found to be parked in a disabled bay without the relevant disc being displayed will be charged accordingly and receive a fine of R800.

For any transgressions that occur when staff are not in the area, complainants can call 107 from a land line or 021 480 7700 from a cellphone.

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