Recently, as QASA has undertaken a joint project with Department of Correctional Services (DCS) and National Heritage Council is discussing their attitude towards access of Heritage spaces and places, I’ve tried to stretch my thoughts beyond the ordinary - to the unusual environments. In both projects it is the same principles that apply: Universal Access.
One of the many downsides to disability is that of being considered asexual, similarly also to being considered saintly. Well neither of these things is more or less true than for the general population! I haven’t read any research on the subject, but I’m just trying to be sensible.
I was part of a group looking at DCS centres in North KZN: specifically at the Regional Commissioner’s offices, the Recreation and Training Centres. Of course I’m basically not really interested in picking out particular buildings, orparts of buildings to make accessible. It was agreed that we start at the entrance and make our way to these particular facilities. The main aim of the project is to sensitize the Department to the needs of the disability sector in all areas of their environment. There are already complex protocols in place in the Department which set out the inmate population of these places, so that they will be easier to manage, so we weren’t going to try to tackle these. There are inner areas, which involve the inmate population and high security areas; and outer areas which involve the staff working areas, recreation areas, and living areas. On arrival at the secure area one has to pass through a‘security’ check. This involves the usual form on a clipboard having to befilled in. I asked the guard “How would you address me if I was deaf?” Well I suppose deaf people get used to this whole procedure, and know what is expected; my problem is that these forms are so badly designed that they are not easy to fill in. It involves a signature at the end of it all, so this is important. The headings on the columns are written in a small font; the spaces allowed for each item to be filled in are too small and they can’t be read by someone who wears glasses for reading (which you are not wearing when you are driving).
Many of these facilities were built years ago, or recycled from being country clubs, to now being Correctional Services facilities, but they are regularly maintained, and upgraded, without consultation with the professionals who could advise on the universal accessibility of the place being done at the same time. Fire protection equipment is installed at the expense of accessibility; external pathways are often of a width that precludes two-way traffic, or passing places; ramps for getting heavy computer equipment in and out are installed, but are too steep for people; emergency evacuation facilities are non-existing and facilities for hearing-loss people in the training area arealso neglected. What an opportunity lost!
However, with the sensitization programme, perhaps these things will become embedded in the culture, as they should be.