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Bus services staff brush up on disability rights

All trainees were given an opportunity to use a wheelchair or opaque glasses and a white cane.

As South Africa marked National Disability Rights Awareness Month in November, the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA), in partnership with the City of Ekurhuleni, celebrated the completion of the universal access skills and capacity building programme.

A certification ceremony was held in Boksburg to reflect on the programme’s outcomes and how all participants will utilise the knowledge and insight gained.

In attendance was the City of Ekurhuleni’s MMC Transport Roads and Stormwater, Andile Mngwevu.

He delivered a message of support and highlighted the municipality’s focus on providing quality, safe, reliable, and consistently available transport systems.

Participants experienced what it feels like to have a disability and have to access a bus.

The programme, which was carried out over an eight-week period, sought to develop the working knowledge of bus drivers and the management team of Ekurhuleni Bus Services as it relates to people with disabilities and enable them to deliver a more inclusive public transport service.

The training intervention also sought to address latent and overt non-compliance by the sector to key legislation such as the National Land Transport Act and the Constitution.

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Fifty employees from the City of Ekurhuleni Bus Services participated in the training programme, including bus drivers and management.

The training for management staff focused on the business case and legislative compliance reasons for implementing universal access within bus operations.

Drivers and support staff training focused on increasing awareness of behavioural barriers and how to practically support passengers with special needs in general, and people with disabilities in particular.

James Motha, TETA’s senior manager of strategic projects and stakeholder relations, outlined the critical role that the organisation plays in delivering outcomes-based training, which enables stakeholders in the transport sector to acquire skills that can be utilised in the workplace and society at large.

He highlighted the importance of developing soft skills alongside technical skills.

All trainees got to use a wheelchair or opaque glasses and a white cane to get on and off the bus.

Travel chain

Lisa Venter, a universal access consultant who supported the design and implementation of the training programme, drew attention to key pieces of legislation, chief among these being the Constitution and the Land Transport Act, which are very specific about the realisation of universal access and disability rights.

The Act places a focus on the requirement for the entire travel chain of a passenger to be universally accessible and factor in how people move from one point to another.

Every touch point in the chain, including the ticket booking mechanism, how one moves from one’s home to access the transport mode’s stops and stations, embarking and disembarking and customer feedback platforms.

If one part of the travel is not accessible to all people, then the entire system is deemed to be non-compliant.

All transport operators must consider this, including the bus transport sector.

The Act is geared to minimise and protect vulnerability and outlines how infrastructure, such as bus stops and stations, for example, must have sufficient lighting at night.

Venter highlighted that South Africa has taken progressive steps to address race and gender-based rights infringements, but the country has yet to tackle disability rights challenges.

This is the context in which the draft Disability Act is being formulated.

“What is commendable, however, is that we have moved from a medical to a social model of approaching disability in South Africa.

“While a medical model adopts the approach of ‘what is wrong with you as an individual and how can that be fixed’, the social model promotes social inclusion of people with disabilities and ensures they are accommodated in designing and implementing public infrastructure and accessing public services.”

Fifty employees from the CoE’s Bus Services participated in the training, including bus drivers and management.

Deaf SA

The eight-week-long training programme had very practical experiential learning outcomes, including drivers being taught basic sign language to equip them to communicate with deaf passengers and those with hearing impairments.

Representatives from the South African National Deaf Association (Deaf SA) and Blind SA were invited to share their experiences as users of public transport systems, the challenges they face and the basics of dealing with persons with a disability.

Drivers who participated in the programme were open about some of the misinformed misconceptions that they had before taking part in the training.

For example, when passengers had to use non-compliant buses, drivers would assist them by offering to carry or physically assist a passenger.

Although one may think that this is the right thing to do, it goes against the Constitutional principles of ‘independence, equality and dignity’.

If a system incorporates universal design and access, all passengers with any type of impairment or special need should be able to utilise the transport system independently, equally and without their dignity and privacy being curtailed.

Know better

Sephiwe Zwane, one of the bus drivers who took part in the training, said the programme was an eye-opener in terms of changing his mindset and behaviour towards people with disabilities.

Speaking at the certification ceremony he said “When you know better, you do better”.

All trainees were given an opportunity to use a wheelchair or opaque glasses and a white cane, to get on and off the bus.

The rationale behind this was to provide the participants with the opportunity to experience what it feels like to have a disability and have to access a bus. They had to navigate their way onto the bus independently or with very little help.

Lefa Moremedi, one of the Ekurhuleni Bus Services managers who took part in the training, highlighted how the training helped them to be strategic and intentional about being more inclusive of those with special needs when planning and procuring new buses.

He said the municipality has been in the process of gradually phasing out busses that are not universally accessible.

Since 2016 all new busses that have been procured are universally accessible.

Budget limitations greatly impact the phasing in of universally accessible buses and must be approached as a process, not an event.

The resounding success of the capacity-building programme has spurred the Transport Education Training Authority to consider extending the training intervention to have a national reach and target rural provinces that often struggle to implement universally accessible transport systems.

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Since 2016, all new buses procured by the CoE are universally accessible.



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