Celebrating Human Rights Day: Advocating for access

Our Constitution protects the rights of all people in South Africa, irrespective of race, gender, colour, age or disability. Section 10 of the Constitution states that all people in South Africa have the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), 4 of 2000 seeks to promote equality and provides measures to assist with the abolition of unfair discrimination, harassment and hate speech on the grounds of race, gender or disability. With specific reference to disability, no person may unfairly be discriminated against by:

o Denying or removing any supporting or enabling facility from any person who relies on it to function in society.

o Failing to take the necessary steps to reasonably accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities or failing to eliminate obstacles that unfairly limit or restrict persons with disabilities from enjoying equal opportunities.

o Structural barriers including accessibility to facilities and infrastructure, the lack of support services or technology, the lack of availability of information in formats that are accessible and the lack of reasonable accommodation in schools and work places.

Ensuring that all people enjoy basic human rights, are at the core of what our Association aims to achieve and supports. The mission statement of SA Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind, is to enhance the lives of visually and physically impaired people and children with autism. This includes protecting and advocating for the dignified treatment of those that we serve.

Access to basic services are one of the human rights that all in South Africa should enjoy. Our Association is continuously informed that many of our clients (Working Dog owners and visually impaired clients who make use of a long cane) face discrimination when trying to access basic services.

Accessibility and Working Dog owners

Awareness about the rights and need for access of Working Dogs into public places is sadly, lacking. Our Association frequently receives communication from our clients, notifying us that their certified Guide, Service or Autism Support Dogs have been denied entry into hotels, restaurants, shopping centres and other businesses.

Sadly, this mistreatment of people with visual or physical disabilities often results due to a lack of information and awareness amongst members of the public and more specifically, the security staff who work at these establishments.

To address this matter, we have formulated and launched the Working Dog Access Programme (WDAP). This Programme aims to raise awareness of the rights and needs of people who rely on the assistance of Working Dogs, with specific regards to access.

Since the launch of the WDAP, our Association has actively engaged with the hospitality, restaurant and security industries, identifying their key players in order to facilitate educational and awareness training. The message of our training programme is clear: Working Dogs are legally allowed access into ALL public places, except ICU, provided that they are identifiably certified by SA Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind.

Furthermore, our programme focusses on changing the perception that a Working Dog is a “pet”. It is crucial that staff at these establishments are informed that there is a distinction between a dog as a pet and a dog as a trained and certified Guide, Service or Autism Support Dog.

Accessibility and Orientation and Mobility clients

Unfortunately, the reality is that many of our visually impaired clients don’t enjoy all basic human rights and have difficulty accessing basic services on a daily basis. People with visual impairment often face the following challenges:

o A lack of assistance from staff at shops and/or extortion by staff wanting payment in the form of a cold drink or sweets for assisting a person with visual impairment.

o Accessibility with regards to withdrawing money from an ATM. Most of these use touch screen technology with no voice or noise prompts assisting a blind person to make the correct selection. People with visual impairment are therefore left vulnerable to the intentions of strangers who offer to assist.

o Public transportation remains a challenge as taxis don’t have consistent, specific, allocated drop off points which leaves our clients disorientated and having to ask for directions.

o Public buildings like shopping centres and hospitals are often not designed with people with visual or physical impairment in mind and the hard furnishings like tiles and walls become a dangerous environment that create a glare and lack of contrast to be able to identify stairs and doors for a person with partial sight. Modern buildings with large glass stacking doors and windows can pose a danger to a person with visual impairment if there is no sticker to ensure that they are not walked into.

o Early childhood development centres for children with visual impairment are extremely scarce which is a lost opportunity to instil confidence from a young age. There is also a lack of employment of Orientation and Mobility Practitioners to teach vital skills to children with visual impairment at schools.

o In the workplace, there remains a lack of support to keep people with visual impairment employed. Although this is the largest disability group, it is also the group with the lowest employment rates. Orientation and Mobility Practitioners can assist with teaching the client to move around safely and independently.

o Pregnant women with visual impairment often face discrimination from healthcare workers at clinics and hospitals. There is a misconception that blind mothers are unable to take care of their children which often result in the children being removed from the mother’s care instead of ensuring that the mother is equipped with the necessary skills to raise the child.

As a society, it is our collective duty to be cognisant of the challenges that many people in our communities face on a daily basis and to speak up when we witness discrimination of any kind. We appeal to you to join us in raising awareness about the accessibility challenges that people with visual or physical disabilities face.

This Human Rights Day, and beyond, let us treat one another with the dignity and respect that each of us deserve and have the right to enjoy.

We welcome the opportunity to engage with companies or entities and will gladly provide management teams and staff with the necessary training to ensure free and fair access to all Working Dogs and their owners in public places. We would also be happy to assist any organisation in a consulting capacity to ensure that services are accessible to our visually impaired community. For

more information regarding our Working Dog Access Programme, please contact Pieter van Niekerk at PieterV@guidedog.org.za or on 011 705 3512. For assistance in improving the accessibility of your business and services to visually impaired clients, please contact Elizabeth Louw at ElizabethL@guidedog.org.za or on 011 705 3512.