SPAR Eastern Cape and the Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities (APD) launched their annual Wheelchair Wednesday project in Uitenhage today, seeking to raise awareness about the problems people with disabilities face.
Each Wednesday in Nelson Mandela Bay this month, community leaders, corporate executives, top sportsmen and women and entertainment celebrities will spend four hours in a wheelchair to experience first-hand the issues at stake.
APD executive director Brian Bezuidenhout said they would follow the same modus operandi they had used for the previous six years, which had proved extremely successful.
“Our view is that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” he said at the launch at SUPERSPAR Levyvale. “We will again stick to our four basic objectives.”
He said these were to:
• Create awareness regarding issues relating to accessibility for people with disabilities within the private and public sectors of Nelson Mandela Bay;
• Involve business and community leaders in making a difference by handing over 150 wheelchairs to needy beneficiaries;
• Have businesses at large assess and recommend changes regarding accessibility; and
• Raise much-needed funds for the APD’s Ability Work Centres for persons with disabilities.
The designated wheelchair operatives will be set various tasks, including visiting a SPAR store and buying bottled water from the top shelf, drawing money from an ATM and using a public toilet.
They will spend four hours in the wheelchair and then provide their feedback to the APD.
Bezuidenhout said previous experiences had permanently changed the attitudes of those involved, leading to important changes to assist people with disabilities.
“The four hours in the wheelchair is an unforgettable experience that changes mindsets forever,” he said.
“Over six years some 1 300 participants of Wheelchair Wednesday have been exposed to wheelchair-related challenges.
“The project has resulted in 668 wheelchairs being donated to needy people over the past six years.
“In addition, the vast improvements brought about in many local structures and the mindfulness of our local citizens to simple matters like the importance of reserving disabled parking bays is encouraging.
“The APD provides work opportunities for some 90 people with disabilities at their Ability Work Centres. With monthly running costs exceeding R500 000, we need to reach out to business and individuals to keep the doors open.”
SPAR Eastern Cape sponsorship and events manager Alan Stapleton congratulated the wheelchair volunteers on taking up the challenge.
“You are very brave and by the end of the day you will have a completely different outlook on life,” he said.
“I know this because a year ago I was in your position and it was extremely humbling.
“We may not be able to change the world, but by doing something small like this you will be making a massive difference to somebody else’s life.
“While you are going through the pain of today and the difficulties you face remember that you are also raising funds to release someone who, right now, does not have a wheelchair and is totally reliant on being carried around.”
He also paid tribute to Bezuidenhout and his team at the APD for their commitment to the cause.
“They are amazing in terms of the passion and drive they have for what they are doing. It really is fantastic and the work they do at the APD is something many people are not truly aware of.”