Reagon Klaassen is 26 years old, lives in Blanco and works at a pizza restaurant walking distance from home. To get to the CBD and church, he catches a GO GEORGE bus a few metres down the street. Reagon is a handsome guy with a friendly smile. He’s just unable to hear.
A friend who knows sign language and volunteers for the National Institute for the Deaf, Elina Nieuwoudt, assisted Reagon in the interview with the paper. “I grew up in Worcester and have always been sensitive to several disabilities from a young age. But ever since I’ve spent three months on the grounds of the Institute in Worcester earlier this year, experiencing life with them on different levels, I find that I’m truly tuned in to the needs and challenges of the deaf,” she says. “I have so much understanding and love for them. They are people like you and me, and need love and acceptance just like we do. Some deaf friends recently told me that people easily sympathise with the blind and people in wheelchairs, but the deaf look normal until they start using signs, and then people think they’re dumb and react negatively towards them. It is so important to treat this group of people with dignity and respect.”
Deaf Christians enjoy being part of a religious community that accommodates hearing-impaired persons. Reagon cannot stop “talking” about the Patria Family Church that opened their doors to a ministry to the deaf community a few months ago. However, if it had not been for the GO GEORGE bus service, he would not have been able to attend these services so far from home.
According to Elina, there are already 23 deaf people gathering there on Sundays, of which only two have their own transport, with the rest walking or taking the bus to this church in the CBD. They can hardly wait for the bus service to be extended to the rest of town.
“With the planning and design of the GO GEORGE system, much emphasis has been placed by National Government’s policy on having the buses as accessible as possible to disabled passengers and people with special needs,” says James Robb, GO GEORGE Manager. “November is the National Month for Awareness of the Rights of the Disabled – a theme which makes all hearts at GO GEORGE beat warmly, because we are committed to walking that extra mile.”
Hearing-impaired passengers are accommodated by several facilities on the buses. Inside the bus, written directions have been put up so that they may read them; an electronic board indicates which bus stop comes next so that passengers may push a button to indicate to the bus driver when they want to get off, and huge warnings to stand back have been attached to the electronic wheelchair hoists to avoid injuries – hearing passengers would be able to hear the moving hoist.