Watershed upgrades its wheelchair access for disabled

The Watershed at the V&A Waterfront will be undergoing minor upgrades to make the space more wheelchair-friendly.

This follows some concerns from visitors who felt the Waterfront was not disabled-friendly. And while the Watershed was not directly linked to the complaints, Waterfront CEO Colin Devenishn said regular audits of facilities at the V&A Waterfront had sensitised them to the issue.

“We’ve noticed that at some entrances to the Watershed, where there are wooden floors, some of the ridges were too high, so we are addressing that,” he said.The concerns, however, centre on stores which are not accessible to people in wheelchairs and bins which obstruct walkways.

Fahd Waggie, was very disappointed when he visited the waterfront with his mother, who is in a wheelchair, complaining that the railings inside the shops were too close together, preventing wheelchair access.

Mr Waggie’s concerns were shared on the V&A’s Facebook page, to which another Waterfront visitor, Mikael Garcia, responded: “Fahd, I share your disappointment. I have realised how poorly managed the V&A is when it comes to access for the disabled. Outside the mall, for example, they place bins on a pavement so wheelchairs can’t go through and on the dedicated path for blind people, so any blind person would just run into a huge bin with sharp corners.”

Mr Devenish said the V&A Waterfront takes concerns about access to the facility “very seriously”, emphasising that R400 000 and R300 000 were spent on upgrading toilets for the disabled last year and this year, respectively.“The disabled-bay fines have increased to R500, and this is aggressively managed by our staff,” he added. However, he said, people need to inform the V&A Waterfront of their concerns so that they can improve the situation. “As soon as we become aware of these things, we try to address them as quickly as possible.” He said most of the bins in the V&A Waterfront were placed next to walkways so that visitors could dispose of litter while they were walking.

“But we have made the maintenance staff aware of this complaint, and we are going to audit it. If the bins are in the way, we will move them. They’re not fixed.” They would meet with their tenants to address the concerns raised. “With retailers, we have an oversight, but stores change displays and set-ups in their quite often,” he said.

The provincial secretary of Disabled People South Africa, Anthony George, said, the V&A Waterfront was 80 percent universally accessible, meaning that it was accessible to wheelchair-bound, blind and deaf people, or anyone else with a disability.

However, he said, “Some spaces were still too far, narrow or difficult to reach.” The concerns about wheelchair access to shops, he said, were not unique to the Waterfront. “At most places, the rails are too narrow for a wheelchair to move through,” he said .

Mr George said developers too often construct buildings without consulting disabled people.

“If developers can do this from the outset, they wouldn’t have these problems in the end. Asked about his 80 percent rating for the V&A Waterfront, Mr George explained: “I think more can be done, in terms of moving around for a disabled person.

“I’d have to invite you for a walk about for you to experience our difficulties first-hand.”