WHILMA Liedeman was stuck in her wheelchair at a pedestrian crossing at Hertzog Boulevard, unable to move because of an uneven road surface.
After about 20 seconds she manoeuvred her way out, but still needed help from her nephew to get across the road before the robot changed.
This is the kind of barrier that the city is hoping to address by employing 20 people with disabilities to conduct an audit across the city to identify access problems.
Yesterday mayoral committee member for transport Brett Herron announced the city’s plan to conduct a comprehensive universal access audit of transport facilities in the city.
While MyCiTi buses are user-friendly for disabled people, other modes of transport and roads pose a major challenge to them.
The universal access audit started with a tweet from Liedeman challenging Herron to spend a day in a wheelchair to experience what a disabled person experiences with city roads and transport.
Herron spent four hours in a wheelchair and said the scariest part of his experience was crossing Strand Street.
“There’s an island in the middle of Strand Street that has a dropped curb but when I got to the dropped curb, I could not get on to it, so I was stuck. If I did not have someone to lift the front of the wheelchair I would not have been able to cross the road. Crossing the road is just impossible in a wheelchair.”
Liedeman, from Atlantis has been in wheelchair for 16 years but does not move around her area in her wheelchair “because we don’t have proper sidewalks; it’s all gravel roads”.
Herron announced the plan ahead of International Day of Persons with Disabilities today.
The first part of the audit of transport facilities starts in February and will take about six months. The city will look at the results of the audit, which will identify problem areas and start implementing the changes to make streets and public transport more accessible to disabled people.
The audit will continue for three years and the city will extend the survey to other modes of transport such as Metrorail trains and stations and residential areas.
In the first six months, surveyors have to look at five business districts – the city centre, Wynberg, Claremont, Bellville and Fish Hoek – and 200 public transport interchanges across the city.
Anthony Ghillino, 38, from Durbanville, has been in a wheelchair for 21 years and said the city’s audit had to take people with all kinds of disabilities into account. “The city has to ensure that disabled people come from local communities to give input, as they would be the best people to identify the barriers in their areas.”
Herron said the city would employ people from local communities in order to get local knowledge.
Herron added: “Whilma really kick-started this whole process when she challenged me and I wanted to use the experience to see how the city could overcome and address the barriers that disabled people face.
“The real challenge was the barriers in our path as we navigated through the city. Not only will wheelchair users be hired to conduct the audit, but also persons, for example, who have visual or hearing impairments,” Herron said.
The city has also been working on a draft Universal Access Policy which is currently out for public comment and will hopefully be adopted by council early next year.
“Universal access is about the elimination and reduction of barriers through the application of universal design to ensure that transport infrastructure and services are accessible to all our residents in the city… I am confident that this audit will help us achieve this goal,” Herron said.
Ghillino added: “The audit is vital because there are huge problems, not only with trains and buses but also with pavements and roads.”
Liedeman said: “I think it’s awesome that the city is doing this audit. I am looking forward to moving around to places like the Grand Parade and Long Street with ease.”