SPAR Eastern Cape sponsorships and events manager Alan Stapleton was recently given a sobering insight into the challenges mobility impaired people face in everyday life.
As part of the SPAR Wheelchair Wednesday initiative by the Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities, Stapleton spent four hours in a wheelchair to gain insight into their world.
With Denver Smith his faithful driver, his first task was to visit a retailer and buy bottled water from the top shelf of the fridge.
“It was impossible to reach,” said Stapleton. “I was able to stretch and tip a bottle off the shelf below, but I could not have my product of choice.”
Returning to his vehicle, Stapleton discovered just how difficult it was to move in and out of the car as he headed for his next assignment – having a document stamped at the nearest police charge office.
“The staff at the Kabega station were very friendly and accommodating,” he said.
He then had to go to a post office to buy a stamp and found that the terrain caused moments of anxiety.
“The steepish decline down to the building gave me a bit of a fright, and my soft ‘office’ hands would need to toughen up,” he admitted afterwards.
Drawing money from an ATM left him feeling equally vulnerable.
“I felt so low and exposed and could not prevent ‘lurkers’ from seeing my pin number. It was not easy to see the keyboard and should someone have wished to mug me, I was a sitting target.”
The next assignment to use a public toilet created some fresh challenges.
“This was unbelievable as the passage was very narrow,” he recalled. “There was just enough space and my elbows were knocking against the wall.
“To get access, you needed a R2 coin, which I didn’t have. But I couldn’t turn the wheelchair in the passage so had to reverse and call for help.”
His next stop, at a pharmacy, was equally daunting.
“I was very wary of knocking delicate stuff off the shelves, although the pharmacist was friendly and accommodating. The counter was very high, but fortunately I did not have to sign anything.”
He came across new hurdles when he went shopping for a pair of shoes.
“The aisles were very narrow and, without assistance, impossible to shop,” said Stapleton. “I also couldn’t reach the shoes that I wanted.
“I decided to try a size seven, but, while removing my shoes, a customer came around the corner and I was in the way.”
Having left his cellphone at an MTN store to charge, he found the staff friendly and accommodating and the shop spacious.
Stapleton returned to the SPAR Eastern Cape Distribution Centre, where he works, to test his own backyard.
“First the vehicle parking access was very difficult, especially as the car was not in a disabled parking area,” he said.
“I then realised that the office surroundings were not suitable for wheelchairs. There was a bumpy ride from the car park and past security.
“Then I had to ease myself out of the wheelchair and, facing backwards, pull myself up each stair, while my driver carried the wheelchair upstairs.”
He found the narrow passage leading into his office very tight and boxes packed inside prevented him from opening the door fully.
“I literally could not get the wheelchair into my office. Had I been able to, I would not have been able to get it around the desk to where I sit.”
As with the public toilets, he found the office restrooms in a narrow passage without disabled booths and impossible to access.
“This was a very long four hours. We rollicked, we rolled, we rocked. We learnt and our eyes were opened.
“In future, I will walk past disabled folks in utter admiration,” he concluded.