THE flame of the Growth and Development Strategy (GDS) torch is still burning bright, and various members of the mayoral committee met people with disabilities in a consultative session at Museum Africa in Newtown on 12 October.

It formed part of the outreach programme for the strategy, which aims to include the input from as many sectors of the population as it can.

Concerns and challenges facing people with disabilities (PWDs) were addressed in the session. “The City has placed special focus on vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, and has marked disabilities as a priority,” said the portfolio head of public safety, Matshidiso Mfikoe.

“There is a constant battle of eradicating social inequalities, so there is a need for substantive interventions,” she added.

Transport, education, skills development, employment, health, housing and infrastructure are particular areas that need to be focused on with regard to making the lives of people with disabilities easier.

There are already a number of interventions in place to assist people with disabilities, but Mfikoe believed that it was paramount to consolidate these initiatives to drive service delivery. She also pinpointed eliminating discriminatory structures and behaviour as a necessity.

“We are mindful of the challenges that still exist,” Mfikoe said, “but we will ensure that PWDs become part of law enforcement and that we raise awareness of disabilities. It is our aim to enhance the quality of life of PWDs,” she said.

Participants at the consultative meeting then gave their inputs about particular challenges that people with disabilities face, as well as areas that they would like to see the City improve or to which more attention should be paid.

Disability forum

Kim Lugli, the chair of health and social development on the Johannesburg Disability Forum and a consultant on the needs and requirements of people with disabilities in the workplace, said: “There is a need for constant consultation as PWDs know better than anyone else what they need.”

She also commented that the Joburg Disability Forum was not allocated a budget, which severely limited the work it could do. There was therefore a need to institute a formal budget to the forum so that it could build on and improve the service that it offered to people with disabilities.

Other points that were brought up in the meeting included housing and difficulties in accessing flats that were not on the ground floor, especially in old buildings that did not have lifts.

Entrepreneurial people with disabilities often miss out on work opportunities, so it was suggested that the public and private sectors were encouraged to work with them and give them the chance to prove themselves.

Further suggestions were that public transport drivers, even on the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system which caters for disabled people, received training that would enable them to help passengers that were disabled.

It was also pointed out that there were a variety of disabilities that needed to be taken into consideration, ranging from physical disabilities to deafness and blindness. One of the participants pleaded for recognition that people affected by mental health problems were also disabled and needed to be classed as such.

It is therefore important that interventions implemented by the City focus on the different types of disabilities its citizens have. “We must all play our parts to ensure that Joburg becomes a global icon of development,” Mfikoe concluded.

All inputs from the GDS outreach programme are being considered and will be included in the final document, which will be launched on 20 October.

For more information on suggestions and solutions that have emerged out of the themed weeks, you can visit the GDS2040 Facebook page, or follow @GDS2040 on Twitter. The GDS also has a website.