Some residents’ wheelchairs have tipped over, with one or two bumping their heads on the sidewalk, while others have been hit by taxis.
These are the dangers that residents of Cheshire Home in Summerstrand are facing on a daily basis because of accessibility issues in the neighbourhood.
Cheshire Home manager, Deidre Burger, said that the sidewalks that residents in wheelchairs have to travel on in order to get around, especially when they go for their shopping trips to Summerbreeze Spar, are either damaged or non-existent.
This causes a bumpy ride and makes it extremely difficult for them to stay upright in their wheelchairs, sometimes resulting in them tipping over.
During PE Express’s visit to the home, Burger pointed out several points along the sidewalks in Gomery Avenue, Percy Owen Street and Admiralty Way that have been damaged, either due to tree roots or what seems to be vandalism or lack of maintenance.
At some points there is no sidewalk, such as the one side of Percy Owen Street, and residents have to wheel their way into the street, crossing streets at multiple intersections and blind turns to get to their destination.
There are also road signs erected in the middle of certain sidewalks, hindering access and leading to the residents ending up in the street with their wheelchairs.
“I have asked for assistance for over six years now and my requests, appeals and begging are always declined with ‘no budget,’ yet pavements in other suburbs are repaired, Lorraine, to mention one,” Burger said.
“They have been bumped into by taxis, so it is quite a crisis.
“We need the municipality to come and fix the sidewalks so that accessibility can be made easier for our residents and they get to their destination safely,” Burger explained.
Burger said that their residents are very independent and most of them wheel to Spar daily. There is one resident who goes to the beach every day and they also attend church at Cape Recife. The sidewalks are damaged in the whole block.
She added that if it were possible, they would love to transport their residents to the shop and back and take them wherever they need to go but, as an NPO, they simply do not have the luxury of all those resources.
“We don’t have a driver available on a 24/7 basis and on the other hand, our residents value their independence and they have a right to that independence.
“However, they are being stripped of their rights as they do not have the same access to shops and the beachfront that cars and pedestrians have.
“As the wheelchairs are lower than the height of a car, visibility is also a problem, increasing the risk. This area is a high taxi-usage area, and they do not always abide by traffic regulations which increase the risk even more.”
Burger said that she won’t give up and will fight for her residents the way she fought a few years ago to have a pedestrian crossing erected at the traffic circle next to Summerbreeze Spar.
“My residents are at risk and I don’t want anything to happen to them. Out of the 56 that we have, 38 are in wheelchairs. I feel that they don’t have a voice to speak up for themselves, so I’m speaking up for them.
“I want the officials from the municipality to come and sit in these wheelchairs themselves and spend a day in the shoes of a disabled person and see the struggles that they face.
“The municipality should also come and sort out their tree roots and fix their pavements. These residents are also people and they have the same rights that others have. We need to follow through with making the city accessible to all.”
Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality was approached to comment on the matter but have failed to do so at the time of writing this article.