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Disability parking necessary

An awareness campaign by a local organisation and shopping centre will look to increase awareness of the necessity for parking spaces for people with disabilities.

The project, initiated by Somerset West NPO Senecio and Waterstone Village shopping centre, will be held from Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 February. It aims not only to create awareness of available parking, but also to highlight the realities disabled people have to face daily.

According to Liezl Grobler, general manager of Senecio, the campaign was established in 2017, and enjoyed much success. “We were approached by Daphne Kriel, centre manager at Waterstone Village, as the centre was experiencing some problems with abled persons parking in spots reserved for people with disabilities,” she explained.

“We brainstormed some ideas and settled on an initiative with entailed us ‘parking’ wheelchairs and walkers in prime unreserved parking spots for three days in 2017. Along with the wheelchairs and walkers, we placed posters branded with the excuses able-bodied persons usually use when parking in spots reserved for persons with disabilities.”

Some of the commonly used excuses are “I will be back in five minutes”, “I will be sitting in my car” and “I am just popping into the centre to use the ATM”.

Grobler added that the campaign was well received by shoppers, with some expressing frustration, anger and dismay, while others were drawn in to inquire more on the initiative.

Some of the reactions were also caught on camera, with a videographer on hand to record the event. The video of shoppers’ reactions was shared on Facebook, and went viral twice – in 2017 and again last year – with thousands of users watching, reacting to and sharing the recording.

“We aimed to show people the difference between an inconvenience and reality, as many people with disabilities are often forced to seek alternative parking spaces when reserved parking is taken by able-bodied motorists,” Grobler related.

“They do not realise what lengths people with disabilities have to go to when they are forced to park in unreserved spots. The reserved spots are there to lighten the effort; it is wider for doors to open and to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, while it also provides easier access to entrance ramps.”

Senecio was again approached by centre management to run a similar awareness campaign, and it has partnered with the Helderberg Stroke Support Group, SpesCare and Little Angels Home to drive the message home.

Despite all efforts, DistrictMail failed to get comment from Kriel at the time of going to print.

This year’s campaign will highlight three important aspects, Grobler added. “We want people to know that disability parking spaces is a necessity and not a privilege,” she said.

“If you do not possess a disability permit then you cannot park in a reserved spot, and you cannot judge a disability by its visibility.

“We will also be changing some aspects of the campaign this year; instead of placing posters with commonly used excuses concerning wheelchairs and walkers, we will place posters that express the emotions of these aids. Some will be humorous, while others will have a more serious message. Our idea is not to berate or anger people, we just want them to realise how important the reserved spots are for people with disabilities.”

Apart from the posters and parked wheelchairs and walkers, this year’s campaign will also feature information tables hosted by the four participating organisations.

Here shoppers will be able to glean information about the organisations and their work, learn more about the services available for persons with disabilities in the Helderberg, and find out more about what persons with disabilities encounter daily.

Furthermore, SpesCare will offer free assessments of lower back and neck pains, the stroke support group will offer free blood pressure testing, and Senecio will aid people with disabilities in correctly completing application forms for the proper disability parking permits.

“This is not a fundraising initiative,” Grobler says. “We purely want to create awareness and spread the word that people should be more aware of the needs of persons with disabilities and put a stranger’s needs ahead of their own.”

V Other organisations focused on persons with disabilities are also invited to join the campaign, which will run from 08:00 to 16:30 daily. For more information or to join the project, call Liezl on 021 852 3856.

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