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Coega’s internal disability awareness drive an ‘eye-opener’ for employees - published 2 Dec 2013

THE Coega Development Corporation’s (CDC) commitment to people with disabilities was yet again on display during an internal disability awareness drive linked to National Disability Month.

The commemoration saw employees at the organisation’s offices across the country spend a day in a wheelchair to experience first-hand the challenges faced by people with mobility impairing physical disabilities.

“At Coega, 2013 has been characterised by sustained moves to incorporate a greater number of people with disabilities into the workplace. To this end, Coega is also sensitising its staff to what their fellow colleagues experience on a daily basis,” said Thandi Rayi, CDC corporate social investment manager.

The CDC purchased 300 wheelchairs that will be donated to deserving beneficiaries in the Eastern Cape, Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal. The Eastern Cape will receive 240 of the 300 wheelchairs which will be distributed with the assistance of the Department of Social Development’s Special Programmes unit.

At a symbolic handover at the CDC’s headquarters in Port Elizabeth, four beneficiaries were present to receive brand new wheelchairs. The remainder of the wheelchairs will be handed over on Tuesday at the Department of Social Development’s National Disability Month close out ceremony also in Port Elizabeth.

The CDC is committed to its plans to integrate and empower people with disabilities and in June this year employed 15 people with disabilities as data capturers, three permanent employees, two learnership candidates and two interns. The CDC also participated in the Spar Wheelchair Challenge this year and donated 10 wheelchairs.

CDC human resources manager, Bongi Stofile, said the CDC would continue to support people with disabilities: “We plan to improve the work we started in assisting people with disabilities. This year our focus is on acknowledging physical mobility, with the focus changing every year. We are planning to bring more people with disabilities to work at the CDC.”

The CDC offices were abuzz with activity as employees manoeuvred their way around on wheelchairs. In Port Elizabeth, the CDC business development manager, Gustav Meyer, said the initiative was a sobering experience. “I now understand the difficulties people in wheelchairs are faced with on a daily basis. It was a real eye-opener,” said Meyer.

Intern, Nwabisa Limaphi, said although the experience was a difficult one, it was fulfilling to be able to understand the challenges.

“It is not easy to be in a wheelchair. I have learnt that we need to be more accommodating to people with physical disabilities. I could tell that my colleagues who spend every day in a wheelchair really appreciate our effort to understand what they go through,” said Limaphi.

CDC Pretoria office employee, Thandi Njadu, an office manager for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform programme, said she faced many challenges but still managed to perform her duties while in a wheelchair.

CDC diversity officer, Sakhekile Zweni, who is wheelchair-bound, said it was a wonderful experience to see her fellow colleagues getting out of their comfort zones and moving around in a wheelchair for the day. “I commend Coega for this initiative and I look forward to more initiatives such as these continuing in the future,” said Zweni.

Eric Tyibilik (59), one of the beneficiaries from New Brighton who lost his legs due to diabetes in 2007, said he owned a very old wheelchair before he received his brand new one. “It feels great to receive a new wheelchair, I am grateful.”

Thandeka Pakati, who lost her mobility as a result of a spinal injury, said it was her very first wheelchair she received.

“I never owned a wheelchair and it was difficult to get around before. It feels great to have my very own wheelchair,” said Pakati.

Department of Social Development Special Programmes representative, Reneé Simons, said they were grateful for the CDC partnership which will make a “significant difference”.

“We need to partner with organisations such as Coega to assist us to respond to the needs of people with disabilities. We plan to uphold and strengthen the relationship we have with Coega,” said Symons.

Rayi said the day was a huge success: “We managed to achieve our objective of creating awareness surrounding physical mobility. We wanted staff to experience what it feels like to be in a wheelchair.

“Often we take for granted to be able to access a building with ease as an able-bodied person, but we fail to realise the challenges faced by people with disabilities on a daily basis. Our employees are now sensitised to these challenges.”

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