I was asked by UCT’s student-run newspaper to write an opinion piece on campus accessibility. This is cool. I think I should expand its reach than just the university for various reasons so below is a copy of the article I sent the editor word-for-word.
I’m a Second-Year Humanities Student. I happen, also, to be in a wheelchair. In the ideal world, this wouldn’t make any difference for my education. UCT’s campus, however, is not easy on the accessibility front. That said, there are various groups of staff and students who fight to make the campus that little bit more manageable for the disabled students but they face considerable challenges on various levels. The effort that groups like UCT’s Traffic Department and the Disability Service put in, although considerable, does not negate the fact that UCT is still very inaccessible for disabled students.
If I had to put the accessibility issues I’ve experienced into a single word, it would have to be ‘lifts.’ I’ve lost count how many times the lifts I need are broken. I’ve also been stuck in two different lifts on Upper Campus. I think it goes without saying that a broken lift can scupper my entire plans for the day. Recently, there was one day where all but one of the Humanities lifts on the South Side broke and the one that remained was, perhaps, the one I could have afforded to lose. Yes, the Disability Service report broken lifts promptly and inform the affected students timeously but that does not change the fact that previously-accessible, planned-for, short routes have been rendered all but useless.
I’ve mentioned a few times that one’s disability is more than just the physical and/or mental limitations that it causes; it becomes part of who you are as a person. What I don’t feel I’ve explained adequately, though, is the degree to which a specific wheelchair becomes part of your body.
Imagine, for a moment, that you begin wearing a new pair of shoes and they haven’t been broken in yet. Feels weird, right? Getting a new wheelchair is much the same thing. Personally, I’ve only ever used manual chairs so I don’t know much about electric wheelchairs but, I imagine, the experience is largely similar.
Just like the new pair of shoes, you would ‘break in a new wheelchair’ by learning not only the chair’s idiosyncrasies, but also how your body plays into them. Ultimately, you are less of a ‘passenger’ in the chair and more of a partner with it.
It’s this partnership that a wheelchair-user develops with their chair that so often others don’t understand. Yes, chairs look similar and function in similar ways but be in one for any length of time and you’ll notice that it has its own, distinct personality. It is this unique ‘personality’ that makes moving into a chair that isn’t yours not only obvious but often unpleasant and potentially risky.
As a society, we so often rely on interpersonal relationships in order to be the best we can. Granted, there are different relationships between different people and those also change depending on context. When these interpersonal relationships pan out the way we expect them to we are able to achieve our goals and for life to progress in a positive, happy way.
What happens, though, when the relationships we rely on most in our day-to-day lives – the relationships where we should feel the safest go sour?
Catching up on the news and was listening to the radio this morning, I came across a video on YouTuber (click here to see the video for yourself) where a 16-year-old was assaulted by her teacher while on a bus and very little (if anything) was done to stop the assault. Worse yet, after the assault, the bus driver and the teacher proceeded to remove the student from the bus and quite literally left her on the curb and drove off.
As anyone even vaguely tied to the Disabled Community, or who just has an interest, would be aware: ableism is a very real, commonly-occurring phenomenon. I just googled the definition of the word ‘Ableism’ and got a whole lot of links to dictionary definitions about how it is ‘discrimination against disabled people.’ Personally, I don’t like this definition and I have one fundamental reason: it’s too specific.
When you hear ‘discrimination’ images of demarcated seating or something similar undoubtedly appeared. While disabled people often face being discriminated against, I feel referring to Ableism as discrimination towards them is too narrow-minded. Ableism, to me, isn’t Discrimination but Misunderstanding.
I’ve often heard that Ableism can be unconscious. I agree. That said, I think that in order to truly discriminate against someone there has to be conscious of it on some level. Yes, a person’s behaviour might lead to a feeling of being discriminated against even though that wasn’t the person’s intention. Since, for me at least, discrimination has to fundamentally stem from intent one cannot have entirely positive intentions and still be seen a discriminatory. From my standpoint, then, is that discrimination can be a form of Ableism but Ableism is not a form of discrimination.
I started working with the Altitude Group since November last year. Since then, I’ve been becoming more and more aware of the policies that South Africa has (and doesn’t have) in terms of disability. Something that just dawned on me relatively recently was that, as yet, South Africa has no ‘Disability Watchdog.’ That said, I’m no expert so I’d appreciate you correcting me if I’m wrong although, sadly, I don’t think I am.
Based on what I read, in short: there is no South African equivalent of the American’s with Disabilities Act who actively enforces anti-ableism campaigns. The closest SA does have, though is the Human Rights Commission – who are too overworked to have time to deal with disability accessibility issues.
When a lift broke down (as well as the backup) in a building recently, I remember an American standing behind me saying “Well, that’s illegal” The sad part is, even if it was illegal we don’t have the resources to enforce the new policy. The sad reality is that, on the whole, South Africa doesn’t have any kind of ‘Disability Watchdog’ like those in America or in the United Kingdom.
OK. So I had a plan for today’s post but, as usual, I’ve decided to change it at the last minute. I’ll post what I was planning to on Wednesday so you won’t miss out on anything.
I have just gotten back from the Alexander Bar in Town. My Piano Teacher’s partner had a show on there and we decided to go. It was my first time at the Alexander Bar.
First impressions of the Alexander Bar: loved it.
Godfrey‘s performance was beyond spectacular and I could (and would) sit through it again immediately. Given that the entire hour-and-a-bit performance had been with him and/or Nicholas (the Piano Teacher) in standing behind a keyboard I don’t think they’d be too keen on spending the best part of three hours on their feet without a break. All the same guys, I’d do it again.
If the stellar music wasn’t enough, the food at the Alexander Bar is also great and their wines aren’t too bad either. While at the Bar I rediscovered a wine that I forgot I liked – Miss Molly’s 2013 “In My Bed” – which is always a nice ‘extra’ when going out.The atmosphere at the Alexander Bar is also something to be envied. The main
The atmosphere at the Alexander Bar is also something to be envied. The main restauranty bit is cluttered (in a good way) that just envelops you and makes you feel at home within the first few minutes.
All in all, the evening went fantastically and I’d do it all again very, very soon.
**To my more regular readers: I know a lot of the ideas today have been mentioned before but, I think these issues bear repeating. All the same, enjoy the reading.
For those of you familiar with South Africa, you’d know our track record with regards to disability isn’t the greatest. That said, there are organisations like the Chaeli Campaign or the Altitude Group that strive to improve the lives of disabled people.
Yesterday, I found myself being taken to a school in Cape Town through work so as to help out with an introduction to ‘Disability Sensitivity Training.’ I think it went well (even if I do say so myself). I was caught relatively off-guard when work asked me to do this so a lot of the stuff I said I had to do off-the-cuff. Looking back at the hastely-sketched argument I made, some of the points I made I feel are worth repeating: my ‘3 Buzzwords on Disability in Society’ if you will.
While the nature of a person’s disability is more-or-less unique, one should be aware of the basic characteristics (for want of a better word) of the common disabilities at the very least. That said, the way disability affects a person is largely subjective. Since a person’s life is highly subjective, we should not presume that all disabled people’s needs are identical. No two people are exactly alike, why should a disability remove our individuality?