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Transport Education and Training Authority ends capacity building programme on a high note

As the country’s focus shifts towards higher education and the post-school sector, the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA), in partnership with the City of Ekurhuleni; celebrated the completion of a universal access skills and capacity building programme. The programme, which was carried out over an eight-week period, sought to develop the working knowledge of bus drivers and management team of Ekurhuleni Bus Services as it relates to people with disabilities, specifically universal design and access of public bus operations and enable them to deliver a more inclusive public transport service. The training intervention also sought to address latent and overt non-compliance by the sector to key legislation such as the National Land Transport Act and the South African Constitution.

50 employees from the City of Ekurhuleni Bus Services participated in the training programme including bus drivers and management. The training for management staff focused on the business case and legislative compliance reasons for implementing Universal Access within Bus operations whereas the drivers and support staff training leaned towards increasing awareness on behavioural barriers and how to practically engage and support passengers with special needs in general and people with disabilities in particular.

 

A certification ceremony was held in Boksburg to reflect on the programme’s outcomes and how all participants will utilise the knowledge and insights gains. In attendance was the City of Ekurhuleni’s MMC Transport Roads and Stormwater, Mr Andile Mngwevu who delivered a message of support and highlighted the municipality’s focus to provide quality, safe, reliable, and consistently available transport systems.

James Motha TETA’s Senior Manager: Strategic Projects and Stakeholder Relations outlined the critical role that the organisation plays in delivering outcomes-based training which enables stakeholders in the transport sector to acquire skills that can be utilised in the workplace and society at large. He highlighted the importance of developing soft skills alongside technical skills.

Lisa Venter, a universal access consultant who supported the design and implementation of the training programme drew everyone’s attention to key pieces of legislation, chief among these being the Constitution and the Land Transport Act which are very specific about the realisation of universal access and disability rights.  The Act places a focus on the requirement for the entire travel chain of a passenger to be universally accessible and factor in how people move from one point to another. Every touch point in the chain including the ticket booking mechanism, how one moves from one’s home to access the transport mode’s stops and stations, embarking and disembarking and customer feedback platforms. If one part of the travel is not accessible to all people, then the entire system is deemed to be non-compliant. All transport operators must consider this, including the bus transport sector. The Act is geared to minimise and protect vulnerability and outlines how infrastructure such as bus stops and stations, for example, must have sufficient lighting at night.

Venter highlighted that South Africa has taken progressive steps to address race and gender-based rights infringements, the country has yet to tackle disability rights challenges. This is the context in which the draft Disability Act is being formulated. “What is commendable, however is that we have moved from a medical to a social model of approaching disability in South Africa. Whilst a medical model adopts the approach of “what is wrong with you as an individual and how can that be fixed”; the social model promotes social inclusion of people with disability and ensuring they are accommodated in designing and implementing public infrastructure and accessing public services.

The eight-week long training programme had very practical experiential learning outcomes. The drivers, who are the coalface of the public bus service, were taught basic South African Sign Language to equip them to communicate with deaf passengers and those with hearing impairments. Representatives from South African national Deaf Association (Deaf SA) and Blind SA were invited to share their experiences as users of public transport systems, challenges they face and the basics on dealing with persons with a disability. They shared real life challenges with the bus drivers who are at the “coalface” of service delivery within the City of Ekurhuleni. The unfiltered and unmediated information was enlightening for the drivers and stimulated a great deal of engagement.

Drivers who participated in the programme were open about some of the misinformed misconceptions that they had before taking part in the training. For example, where passengers had to use non-compliant buses, drivers would assist them by offering to carry or physically assist a passenger. Although one may think that this is the right thing to do, it goes against the Constitutional principles of ‘independence, equality and dignity’. If a system incorporates universal design and access, all passengers with any type of impairment or special need should be able to utilise the transport system independently, equally and without their dignity and privacy being curtailed.

Sephiwe Zwane, one of the bus drivers who took part in the training shared how the programme was an eye opener in terms of changing our mindset and behaviour towards people with disabilities. Speaking at the certification ceremony he said “When you know better, you do better”.

All trainees were given an opportunity to use a wheelchair or opaque glasses and a white cane, to get on and off the bus. The rationale behind this was to provide the participants with the opportunity to experience what it feels like to have a disability and have to access a bus. They had to navigate their way into the bus independently or with very little help.

Lefa Moremedi, one of the Ekurhuleni Bus Services managers who took part in the training highlighted how training helped them to be strategic and intentional about being more inclusive of those with special needs when planning and procuring new buses. He highlighted that the municipality has been in a process of gradually phasing out busses that are not universally accessible. Since 2016 all new busses that have been procured are universally accessible. Budget limitations greatly impact the phasing in of universally accessible busses and must be approached as a process, not an event.

The resounding success of the capacity building programme has spurred the Transport Education Training Authority to consider extending the training intervention to have a national reach and target rural provinces who often struggle to implement universally accessible transport systems.

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