The International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been annually observed on 3 December since 1992. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.
In 2018, Ford Motor Company Fund partnered with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) and the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities in South Africa to make the dream of beach access a reality for the physically disabled.
As the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, the Ford Fund provided a grant of $10,000 to assist WESSA’s innovative Blue Flag Amphibious Wheelchair Project. The funds were used to purchase specially designed wheelchairs which are capable of traversing soft beach sand and can be used in the water.
A total of 45 South African beaches were awarded the prized Blue Flag status for the 2016/2017 season by WESSA, which is the national operator of the revered international Blue Flag eco-label for beaches, boats, and marinas – a trusted symbol of quality that is awarded annually, and is recognised by the World Tourism Organisation.
In addition to meeting stringent criteria for water quality, environmental management, and education, the Blue Flag status includes a requirement for universal access to these pristine beaches – both for able-bodied and physically disabled persons.
“Although some beaches across South Africa allow for persons with disabilities to access the beach, they are often met with the struggle of getting onto the beach itself,” explained Robert Slater, of WESSA. “We aim to bridge this gap by providing 20 Blue Flag beaches across the country with amphibious wheelchairs which allow people who rely on mobility devices such as wheelchairs to get onto the beach and into the water.”
WESSA set out to assist municipalities in making the selected Blue Flag beaches universally accessible, part of which includes the provision the specially designed and manufactured amphibious wheelchairs at selected beaches across the country.
“Ford is much more than an automobile manufacturer; it is a mobility company focused on people,” said Mike Schmidt, director of Education and Community Development at the Ford Fund. “This fantastic project addresses the need for greater mobility and access to some of South Africa’s prime holiday destinations.”
“We are delighted to support the provision of these amphibious wheelchairs, helping give people with disabilities the opportunity to access and enjoy our beautiful coastline and beaches. It also ties in with our ongoing support for WESSA, and the pioneering work being done through the Ford Wildlife Foundation and its partner organisations.”
In December 2019, Vincent Shacks, general manager of Sustainable Tourism Division at WESSA, confirmed that the amphibious wheelchairs which had been presented to the four selected municipalities – City of Cape Town, Overstrand, Bitou, and Kouga – in 2018 were still available for use by the public during Blue Flag season, and simply needed to be requested from the beach manager when visitors arrive at the beach.
For more information, please visit: http://wessa.org.za/what-we-do/ecotourism2/blue-flag-sa/