Categories: GovernmentNews
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2023-12-08 9:51 AM

Empowering Disabilities in South Africa’s Built Environment: Initiatives Galore

  • Advocacy for Inclusivity: Deputy Minister Bernice Swarts highlights the imperative need to empower individuals with disabilities in South Africa's built environment, emphasizing their overlooked potential and the necessity for active support and opportunities within the industry.
  • Challenges in Accessibility: The article underscores prevalent challenges faced by people with disabilities, including inadequate physical access in buildings, the absence of necessary infrastructure like ramps and handrails, and insufficient provisions for the visually impaired, hindering their participation and success in the industry.
  • Recognition and Empowerment Initiatives: Efforts towards inclusivity are evident through initiatives such as the Council for the Built Environment (CBE) colloquium dedicated to persons with disabilities, recommendations for broader stakeholder involvement, and the Built Environment Recognition Awards, which celebrate accomplishments and drive professional excellence in the sector. These initiatives aim to bridge gaps and promote a more inclusive built environment in South Africa.
By Miriam Matoma

In a fervent call for inclusivity and empowerment, Bernice Swarts, the Deputy Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, has emphasized the crucial role of entities within the department in fostering opportunities for people with disabilities in South Africa’s built environment. Addressing the prevailing oversight faced by individuals with disabilities in accessing work and business prospects within the industry, Swarts stressed the need for active participation and support.

Speaking at the Council for the Built Environment (CBE) colloquium on persons with disability in Boksburg, Gauteng, Swarts highlighted the prevalent misconception hindering opportunities for people with disabilities. Often sidelined due to assumptions about their inability to handle physical tasks associated with the industry, these individuals face systemic challenges that impede their entry and success in the built environment.

Under the theme of “Co-creation of spaces which entrench universal access,” the recent conference aimed at consolidating rights and advancing opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Swarts pinpointed various challenges obstructing their engagement, including inadequate physical access in buildings due to the absence of ramps, handrails, heavy doors, narrow passages, and insufficient signage catering to the visually impaired.

In a proactive stance, the Deputy Minister urged for the integration of people with disabilities into project management roles and encouraged their ownership of businesses within the built industry. Additionally, she called upon the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to prioritize tailored training programs for individuals with disabilities, enhancing their employability prospects in the sector.

The DHET’s Strategic Policy Framework on Disability for the Post-School Education and Training System stands as a pivotal instrument aimed at fostering an inclusive environment. This framework seeks to implement and monitor disability-related policies and guidelines, ensuring the integration of people with disabilities into the education and training system.

Acknowledging strides made towards inclusivity, such as the incorporation of South African Sign Language as the 12th official language, Swarts stressed the persisting gap in meeting employment targets for individuals with disabilities in the country. She emphasized the need for sustained efforts to bridge this disparity.

Highlighting the importance of a comprehensive approach, Swarts recommended the inclusion of stakeholders beyond the built industry sector, particularly education stakeholders, in future colloquiums. This broader engagement aims to holistically address the multifaceted challenges faced by people with disabilities within the built environment.

In a separate initiative, Swarts is set to deliver a keynote address at the Built Environment Recognition Awards, an event dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of individuals and organizations shaping the industry’s future. Hosted by the CBE, these awards aim to recognize outstanding contributions and promote professional registration, underscoring the significance of excellence within the built environment.

The inaugural awards ceremony, taking place in Durban, represents a platform to honor and highlight the pivotal role played by exemplary individuals and entities in advancing the sector.

Through these concerted efforts and advocacies, the South African built environment seeks to not only rectify existing barriers but also celebrate and promote those contributing to its growth and inclusivity. As the nation progresses towards a more equitable future, these initiatives stand as beacons of hope, driving transformative change for individuals with disabilities in the built environment.

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Miriam Matoma

Miriam is a freelance writer, she covers economics and government news for Rateweb. You can contact her on: Email: miriam@rateweb.co.za Twitter: @MatomaMiriam