Inspired by our Cape coastline, its nature and mountains, several local artists exhibited their artwork at the QASA AGM evening function held in CapeTown recently. Vibrant and colorful, the artwork included portraits, landscapes and animals - celebrating our unique culture and heritage. The artwork also included pieces by the late Kobie Tait.

The occasion showcased the talents of local mouth-painting artists, and raised awareness of artists with disabilities from all provinces in South Africa. Well attended by 120 people, the evening was a great opportunity for everyone to get together and share in the interests of quadriplegics, paraplegics and the disability sector as a whole. QASA supports continual development of artists with disabilities by encouraging these talented individuals to carve out careers for themselves.

The evening included a cocktail party, Marimba band and a guest appearance by Matthew Booth, the soccer player. Booth shared experiences and highlights from last year's World Cup.

Much of the artwork bought on the evening will now feature in homes as far away as the United States and will no doubt spread the word of the inherenttalent South Africa has to offer.

In September 43 people with disabilities were given an opportunity to be part of the South African Disability Development Trust's (SADDT) Wholesale and Retail SETA Learnership!

A learnership is a training programme that requires a person to attend theoretical training however, of even greater significance, is the experiential learning where learners areplaced in business to apply the knowledge that they have acquired, to make the book-learning real and meaningful!

The 43 learners have been placed inthe retail environments of Massdiscounters (Game), The Foshini Group andWaltons where they will experience the entire ambit of the retail world - from administration, to merchandising and assisting customers on the floor.

For most of the learners, this is their first foray into formal employment  -  and they are loving it! The employers are thoroughly enjoying having them -  due primarily to their enthusiasm and joy of being in a working environment.

Some of the learners have real challenges - such as wheelchair users who are struggling to access suitable transport to the learning and work venues: "Today was my first time at work at Foschini Pine Town. It was good, the only thing that is still stressing is the transport." -  Sthembiso Ngema - quadriplegic - Hillcrest.

Despite the barriers Sthembiso is happy to be in the Learnership. He has a mentor and, whilst he will undoubtedly be learning a great deal in the weeks and months ahead, so too will the staff and general public with whom he will be interacting. They will learn that people with disabilities are not to be defined by their disabilities -  that they are capable of fulfilling any role or task that is assigned to them.

Thanks to SADDT 43 people's lives have been irrevocably changed - they have acquired new skills, new confidence and the knowledge that they CAN!

Driving Ambitions driving instructor, Pat Allen, is incredibly proud of Solomon Sedibane and congratulated him on passing his driving license on his first attempt.

17 years ago Solomon was out walking in Mamelodi when eight youths tried to robhim. Finding nothing of value they shot him. When he came round he was unable to walk. Residents stood watching at their gates as he clawed his way to a house and asked them to call an ambulance.

Says Pat, "Through DrivingAmbitions, your life is about to change. You will be able to drive to work instead of sitting helpless on the side of the road, hoping a taxi will stop before you are mugged again. You will no longer need to threaten greedy taxi drivers who want to charge you three times the fare because people refuse to sit next to you in case your condition is contagious, and also for space for your wheelchair. Soon you will arrive at work in your own car, and have the dignity of driving where you need to go, and doing what you want to do, when you want to do it!"

Chris Adams and Kit Dobyns

NCPPDSA and QASA recently hosted Chris and Kit, interns from Cornell University - theys hared some of their experiences before leaving for home.

A man traveled on a dirt road to Lusikisiki in his wheelchair. The path is riddled with potholes, and taxis sped past him, nearly grazing the edgeof his tires. Yet, he did not stop. He needed to get into town. For food, for medicine, for work or, maybe, just to go somewhere. Tohim, the inaccessibility of his environment could not hold him back. However, many rural people with disabilities face seemingly insurmountable obstacles on a daily basis. They remain in a static life, confined to their homes or to their beds. Accessible public transport is a luxury.Community empathy and support is a dream. But, it does not have to be this way!

Compared to its urban areas, SouthAfrica's rural provinces are lacking in resources for all its residents, notonly for people with disabilities. However, the latter are those most affected by this sad fact. Large companies are essentially absentfrom these regions, resulting in fewer employment opportunities for people with disabilities and more protective workshops without contract work. Rehabilitation facilities lack the staffing and funding to provide constructive, empowering services. At a rehabilitation center for people with newly-acquired spinal injuries in the Eastern Cape, Mr. Pretorius, one ofthe center's committee members, stated that, "the whole country is facing the same challenge." But these rural areas are specifically vulnerable to the negative consequences of budget constraints. Smaller amounts of government money reach them, less work is available for people to obtain, and people with disabilities face an inaccessible environment.

We had the good fortune of meeting with community groups in Maclear and Flagstaff. Though residents with disabilities in both locations are just beginning to connect with the resources of larger organisations, they have independently taken the initiative to create small enterprises, including a bakery service for schools and a women's dress shop. But in terms of community sensitisation to disability issues, both local residents and public officials have a long wayto go.

With that said, people with disabilities in Maclear and Flag staff  have taken steps to improve their lives, as well as the lives of other rural people with disabilities. By starting small businesses, people with disabilities build important relationships within their own communities. These relationships normalize South Africans with disabilities. People recognize them as fellow citizenswith equal rights. As Mr. Pretorius said, "If communities stand together, more can be done, rather than one disabled person standing alone and making the news."

There is power innumbers. If rural people with disabilities desire an improved standard of living, then they must work together as members of a diverse nation. To empower themselves, they must engage in their community in an effort to sensitize their neighbors. As NCPPDSA-member Brunhild Strauss noted, "It's a huge task to sensitize people,but it has to be done."