Tag Archives: Accessibility

Wheelchairs in Academia: A Collaboration with The Diary of a Disabled Person

Aidan Bizony

In February 2016, I started an Undergraduate Degree at the University of Cape Town in English and History.  Initially, I wanted to do Law but decided to embark on my passion for Literature instead – something I’m extremely glad I did now that I think about it. While a lot of my old high school buddies spend their types in laboratories or in Finance Lectures, I choose to spend my time debating word-choice in centuries-old novels. I’m happy with what I do. It, too, is one of the few avenues in my life that can be entirely disentangled from disability. Don’t get me wrong, disability is a part of who I am but I don’t want to be dominated by it all the time.

As much as my field allows me to separate me from my physical limitations, sometimes the campus itself and the ideologies of those around me find a way, as John Keats put it, “toll me back to my sole self.” Granted, a physical disability is bound to bring with it some challenges that mean the experience is different but I don’t see how the real-world complications should be allowed to creep into my academic life. To think, though, that 150+ year old university built on a mountain must suddenly redesign itself for a relatively small portion of the population who have certain physical difficulties is naïve – particularly when you consider all the other problems South Africa must address.

Regardless of the various difficulties I have in navigating the campus, there are several groups who strive to make the academic experience as separate as possible from the disability limitations students face. For instance, since the campus bus system is not wheelchair accessible the UCT Disability Service arrange alternative, accessible transport so that I do not have to be beholden to friends and/or family to get me to my classes and my classes are taught in wheelchair-accessible venues.

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Parking Wars: The QASA Help Line

As I pointed out in an earlier post, these bays do matter and it shouldn’t be used without a legitimate reason regardless of how long it is being occupied for.

As you no doubt have noticed from earlier posts, I have a particular issue with people parking in Disabled Bays illegally. While the response to the issue is usually great, there are times when the response is… less than ideal. Helped in no small part by my obsessiveness, things can get pretty heated when these issues aren’t resolved. Naturally, this causes a lot of anxiety, (un)necessary agro, etc. Luckily, a friend suggested I contact the QuadPara Association’s Whatsapp Hotline.

The hotline was released in 2014 as a way to combat ‘the problem’ and, on the whole, has been working effectively – at least when I’ve used it. While dealing with these issues is never fun, the hotline at least becomes a vehicle (pun intended) to reduce the energy, anxiety, and stress that the other methods of reporting lead to. What’s more, the hotline provides a safer medium in which to challenge this problem of illegal parking.

Please don’t crucify me for this, other ‘Parking Warriors,’ but the parking is not the issue. Frankly, if you have a real, justifiable reason for parking in a Disabled Bay I’m not too fussed. My problem comes in with the sentiment that often goes hand-in-hand with it: ‘I’m only stopping a minute’ or ‘It doesn’t matter.’

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Accessible Venues: A Given, Right?

Hey guys,

I’ve had quite an interesting experience happen to me today that I want to share with you.

As you’ll know if you’ve been ‘Keeping Up with the Diaries’, UCT and I go through an ‘on again, off again’ relationship on the Disability Front. Nothing bad happened to me today but today’s interaction reminded me that accessibility, sadly, is not something I can take for granted.

It’s the third week of the Second Semester and all tutorials are due to start this week and it’s time to start mobilizing in general: assignment deadlines are around the corner, lectures are in full-swing, and the beginning-of-semester administration is dead and gone. When I checked my timetable in Week 1 to double-check whether all my venues were indeed accessible, I found myself having to e-mail a couple of lecturers to have a couple of tutorials due to inaccessible venues. Simple right? Wrong.

Of the four courses I’m doing this Semester, two of them have resulted in tutorial problems that I can’t seem to get resolved just yet for some reason. The first course, I signed up for online like everyone else because it suited my schedule and it was in a building that I know to be accessible. The second was in a room I knew to be a problem so I requested it to be moved, as I’d done for the three semesters before. I thought that’d be the end of it for my ‘venue problems’.

Tutorial 1 for Course The First comes around on Thursday last week and I go to the building and start hunting for a room which, according to the signage and general layout of the building should be easy enough to find, after spending literally half-an-hour marching up and down the building, exploring all four floors I discovered that the specific room I was meant to be in is the one inaccessible room in a building that is otherwise largely accessible. I’m in communication with the department now to try and fix the problem and, hopefully, the fact that I missed the tutorial (of which there are only three this semester for this course). As Adrian Mole would put it: “just my luck.”

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Disabled Parking: Small Incident, Big Ideological Problem

Maybe it’s just me but I like to think that people are not intentionally vindictive beings who set out to make other people’s lives more difficult but, the reality is, that it happens far more than we’d like to admit. From a wheelchair-user’s perspective, one of the ways I see this happening a lot is in disregard for Disabled Parking Bays.

I don’t know how many times I’ve come across Disabled Bays being used illegally. To be honest, it is difficult to understand exactly why this is so common giving how aware a lot of societies are on other issues. Is it that people don’t understand why they exist? Don’t they care? Yes, something like “he’s in my spot” is trivial but I still think it is worth condemning the action as it speaks to the larger issue that is Ableism.

While it is a requirement in several countries that parking areas have allocated Disabled Parking, I don’t think the reasoning behind their existence is adequately explained if at all. In my opinion, there are 2 main reasons for their existence: Safety and Access.

Reasons for a Disabled Bay’s Existence

Safety

I’m sure it goes without saying that, in most cases, wheelchair-users are lower than the average, ambulatory person by the very fact that they are seated. The height difference, in a parking scenario, can lead to potential dangers. To put it frankly, it is harder for drivers to see us.

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Tables, Lights, Doors: My Other Nemeses

Hey guys,

Sorry for the late post today but, hey, it’s been one of those weeks (well, months). For those of you who’ve been reading the blog relatively regularly recently will know that I recently highlighted the latent discriminatory nature of the table-legs of a certain type of café table. I think it is time, though, that I bring up a similar, related issue: the height of certain appliances/counters that make life that much more difficult for those of us in wheelchairs. Namely, there are three things, in particular, I have a grudge against Table/Counter Height, Light Switches, and Self-Closing Doors.

Table Height

I had this problem recently when I went to see The Tale of Irma Vep at the Theatre on The Bay a couple of weeks ago. Before the show started I wanted to order a coffee while I waited for people to shuffle their way into the theatre before I took my seat in the customary empty space they leave available for wheelchairs. The problem with this plan of ‘world coffee domination’ was by the time I got to the Coffee Counter I found that to the barista I must have looked like a disembodied head as the counter itself came up to my neck height.

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The Mountain University, Student Antics, ‘Lifts’

So, as my UCT readers will know, the Semester started today. Yay… for now. It’s day one but in the few hours I’ve been on campus I’ve had to brush the cobwebs off of the Student Files stored somewhere very, very deep in my brain and actually engage.

I can see that, as the week continues, I have to actually have to sit up and pay attention. In between classes and the customary curriculum changes, I was struck by the fact that I am once again walking from the extreme ends of campus – not because that’s where my venues are but because that is where the accessible routes are located.

Why is it that the accessible routes are the most convoluted and hidden on campus?

I’m sure it is largely due to the fact that UCT is built on a mountain and built at a time when Disabled People were largely unseen and unheard. That said, the fact that I’m often walking far more than my non-disabled friends is somewhat ironic.

The ‘mountain build’ means that, of the buildings that are relatively accessible, it often involves one or more lifts. If you’ve been reading some of my other posts then you’d know that the UCT Lift Situation is… risky. 

I thought today would go according to plan and the lifts would be working the way you’d expect. They did. At the same time, though, I was reminded that the lifts are on a tenuous, thin lifeline. L50 (my best inanimate friend), for example, decided to clunk loudly enough halfway up the shaft that for a moment I had a serious concern that I’d be trapped in it… again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m studying but it’s times like lifts breaking down that I’m reminded that society, more often than not, allows those with physical problems to participate in it only as second-class citizens. Something as simple as a placement of a ramp or a lift’s operation speaks volumes.