Easing the way for the disabled

Janine Erasmus

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) has pledged to make its cultural institutions fully accessible to the disabled, and is certainly putting its money where its mouth is – so to speak. Minister of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan announced in December that R162 million was to be made available to upgrade facilities at its public institutions in order to make them easily accessible to those with disabilities. It is crucial that every single visitor to South Africa is able to indulge freely in cultural tourism. This has been identified by DAC as an important sector for growth and is one of the focus areas of its Investing in Culture programme.

DAC will spend R162-million over the next three years on its cultural facilities to ensure that disabled people will not be excluded from enjoying the services on offer. The minister announced the plan as part of Government’s ongoing plan to improve the plight of people with disabilities, adding that the funds will be allocated in three stages over the next three years – R39 million for 2008, R43 million for 2009 and R80 million for 2010.

South Africa’s Constitution, hailed as one of the most progressive to be found anywhere, offers equal inclusion in all aspects of society to everyone – including those with disabilities. However, the disabled still find themselves hampered on occasion because South African society has in past years been geared mostly towards the able-bodied, and the basic requirements of those who use wheelchairs or other aids to get around were not always accommodated. With the launch of its new initiative DAC is upholding the principles of the Constitution in this regard.

“We have detailed information on the provision that has been made for the upgrading of security and access for persons with disabilities at the Department’s public entities,” said Jordan. “These would include places like museums, playhouses and other institutions that bring people together to not only enjoy artistic expressions but witness and experience the heritage of our beautiful country.”

With the likes of the Iziko Museums of Cape Town, the Northern Flagship Institution (a group of cultural institutions based mostly in the Gauteng area), the National Library of South Africa, and all of South Africa’s World Heritage Sites falling under the jurisdiction and care of DAC, these important elements of South Africa’s cultural heritage will soon be undergoing any necessary modifications to make them more accessible.

According to Jordan, “The upgrade of security and accessibility for persons with disabilities is a priority to make the arts accessible to all the people of the country.”

Currently there are several policies in place for the benefit of the disabled. South Africa passed the Bill of Rights in 1992 – in Section 9(3) of the South African Bill of Rights a statement declares that “the state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, and birth.”

Cabinet then passed the Integrated National Disability Strategy in 1997, a document that provides guidelines in order to help the country achieve a human rights-based model of disability inclusion in South African society. In his foreword to the White Paper on the Integrated National Disability Strategy, then Deputy President Thabi Mbeki wrote, “Research estimates that between 5 and 12% of South Africans are moderately to severely disabled. Despite this large percentage of disabled people, few services and opportunities exist for people with disabilities to participate equally in society.”

The Integrated National Disability Strategy was followed a year later by the Employment Equity Bill, which prohibits unfair discrimination on any grounds in any employment policy or practice.

It is mostly pre-1994 buildings that will need to be renovated and adapted, as later structures were put up with disabled access already in place, including those sponsored by the ministry. Among these are the Luthuli Museum in Kwa-Dukuza, KwaZulu-Natal, for instance, which was designed with disabled access right from the planning stage.

At present the department is in the process of ascertaining the requirements of its public entities in terms of security and accessibility, while a service provider will be appointed in the near future to report on the current status.

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