If you haven’t heard of QASA, then get ready to be blown away after reading our interview. The QuadPara Association of South Africa is, according to their website, “a co-ordinating, policy-making, governing and supporting organisation.” What this means, is that they focus on preventing spinal cord injuries, promoting disability awareness, and creating a world in which people with mobility impairments can live fully and comfortably.
I’m very happy to say that I could speak to Mr Ari Seirlis, the CEO of the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA), and get his input on some of our questions.
- What are some things that you’d like the public to know about QuadPara and its history?
Not only does QASA provide projects, products, and services for quadriplegics and paraplegics who are members of the organisation, but we pride ourselves on our very prominent activities.
We provide strong lobby and advocacy, representing our members in discriminatory issues and also ensuring that regulation and legislation represents the needs of our members. QASA is well known for its stand against the E tolls, issues of the road accident fund, and we’ve demonstrated about the lack of facilities available at a particular time in planning for the 2010 World Cup soccer.
Furthermore, QASA has a strong prevention of disability campaign with our infamous “buckle up we don’t want new members campaign”.
- QASA has a project called Driving Ambitions that helps people with mobility impairments take driving lessons. What was the motivation behind starting this project and what has been its impact so far?
QASA identified through its members that there was no driver training academy run by an NGO that understood the needs of quadriplegics and paraplegics and that was equipped with all equipment required for people with limited mobility to have access to driver training. So, we started the Driving Ambitions project. This has now expanded into the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal and we have a fleet of 4 vehicles with various different adaptations for people with mobility impairments to participate in driver training with the ultimate goal of achieving a licence.
In the last 5 years, 80 people have received their driving licence and of those, many have managed to secure mainstream employment
- Of course, there are some who won’t be able to drive who might need to use public transport. How do you feel public transport can improve to accommodate people with disabilities and/or mobility impairments? Do you think they’re currently doing the bare minimum?
Unfortunately, not all of the 12 major cities in South Africa have kept the momentum of bus rapid transit, which would have allowed for better circulation of people with mobility impairments who live in the cities. Yes, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria provide a reasonable service and it seems that Durban is well into the development of GO DURBAN.
It is necessary to state that there is no accessible public transport facility nor infrastructure in the rural areas and so this ensures that people with mobility impairments remain without skills, and without jobs which is very significant. The only option is to relocate if you want a meaningful life.
So, to answer the real question, the bare minimum is being done. Disability organisations like QASA and of course the South African Disability Alliance need now to step up and to go to the courts or to take more drastic action in order to get a commitment for accessible public transport infrastructure and deployment.
Accessible public transport is the biggest barrier that people with mobility impairments face.
- There is a post about beach wheelchairs on your website which made me realise how many places aren’t actually as accessible as I’d thought. How can other facilities, like public swimming pools or restaurants etc, also become more accessible?
The beach wheelchairs are extremely popular and yes, very sparsely distributed. QASA is the main contributor to the availability of beach wheelchairs and we rely on certain facilities to maintain these. Beach wheelchairs are not seen as a priority but it is the opinion of QASA that they should be an integral part of the blue flag beach criteria.
It should be in the national building regulations that if you build a swimming pool, they should be a hoist and lifting device of a minimum standard to assist people getting in and out of a swimming pool. They are many restaurants that are also not accessible and of course it is the consumers choice whether to support them or not and so our best advice to people who enjoy eating out is the following “support the restaurants that are accessible and avoid those that are not”.
Let’s win this battle with the wallet!
- I remember reading a header on your website that says “Think Different”. How would you like others to change their ways of thinking when it comes to people who have disabilities? What are some common misconceptions that you’ve noticed?
We believe that the public should embrace everybody with the same respect and the same opportunity. Disability can become part of anybody’s life at any moment.
Common misconceptions are that people with disabilities are not functional in mainstream society and do not make a contribution. They depend on welfare and are a cost to community and country. If accessibility in the form of universal design was embraced and deployed, then access to skills, education, experience, and opportunity, would allow people with disabilities to integrate effectively as well as socially into society and perceptions would change
- I know you feel very strongly about people who drive recklessly – be it texting, drinking or not wearing a seat-belt. Do you have a message to those who still don’t see the dangers or who think “it won’t be me”?
Texting and driving, and distracted driving are now the biggest causes of road crashes in the world. Reckless driving is a habit very difficult to change, but the awareness of the danger of using a mobile phone whilst driving can change and this could come through employers making it a dismissible offence.
QASA has a prominent message “we don’t want new members” and we hope that this subtle message, which brings a smile to most people’s faces, makes a point.
QASA also have an incredible initiative called their Theory of Change. They listen to the voices of over 6000 members and they integrate each of them into their strategic plan. Mr Seirlis believes that “The Theory of Change is a wonderful document which makes sure that whatever we do creates a change, not just an activity.”
So, with that in mind, I hope you as our reader will also take it into your hands to spread the word on awareness. Be it by alerting your employers about possible accessibility issues, or reminding your friends and family about the dangers of distracted driving, you can make a difference. Make sure that what you do, no matter how big or small an act it is, creates change.