A very friendly group of “assessors” took to the street and also went for a bus ride in George on Wednesday last week. The purpose of their visit was to test and give feedback regarding the universal accessibility of the newly upgraded Market Street, as well as the features and services to accommodate people who are blind on the GO GEORGE buses and at the bus stops.
The four blind friends came to George from Hartenbos where Diane du Plessis (owner of guide dog Akari) and Amanda Bester (owner of guide dog Odie) reside, and Corrie Brits (owner of guide dog Melvin) and Reginald Smal had been visiting them from Bellville and Roodepoort respectively. They certainly looked to be on a mission with three guide dogs leading the pack, and Reginald using a white cane to walk about.
Universal Access a top priority
Universal accessibility (UA) is one of the top priorities of the GO GEORGE bus service which has been commended before about being progressive and innovative regarding accommodation of passengers with disabilities or special needs.
“Of course, we have made mistakes in the past, but we keep learning and we continuously keep trying to improve our services to all passengers,” said James Robb, Acting Public Transport Oversight Official of the George Municipality.
To this end, the services of one of the few qualified UA consultants in South Africa, Colette Fransolet, was acquired to continuously educate, support and assess the different workstreams of the bus service to enhance the experience of persons with disabilities or special needs. Colette invited the group to George and accompanied them along with members of the GO GEORGE communication team.
Visitors deeply impressed
The visitors were unanimously impressed with the wide sidewalks in Market Street and the tactile paving which they could feel with their feet and that can be followed easily towards the bus stop or for warnings at pedestrian crossings. Market Street is in the final phases of being upgraded, incorporating several universal design principles.
Corrie appreciated using the ramp to board the bus and remarked on the enjoyable walk through the Garden Route Mall with their dogs. To their delight, a Braille menu was presented at the Wimpy restaurant.
Amanda mentioned that the beeps at the traffic lights could perhaps be made a bit louder since it is difficult to hear them above the engine noise of passings buses or trucks. “Everything about the visit was positive,” she said, “but the GO GEORGE bus was the ultimate experience of the day! The buses are equipped so well to accommodate people with different kinds of disabilities – it would be wonderful if every city can have this kind of bus service. It allows the blind person so much independence, having access to this kind of transport, being able to go to the Mall on your own.”
Reginald reiterated the ease with which a person who is blind can navigate the spacious sidewalks with tactile paving, including the directional paving at the bus stop itself. “I can just commend the effort that’s being made here in George,” he said.
It was Diane’s first bus ride and most enjoyable, with her guide dog, Akari, also handling it very well.
Status of guide dogs
Co-passengers on this specific bus were still a bit apprehensive of the three dogs in the bus.
“I know the GO GEORGE communication team has been doing a lot to create awareness about guide dogs, but this is something we need to keep addressing,” said Colette. “The public should be made aware of the need for and status of working dogs, and that they are harmless. They can be discerned from other dogs by the harnesses they wear and a sign that reads, Working guide dog. Please do not distract. Guide dogs are an integral part of being blind if you own a dog. The dogs are an extension of the person and give them a great sense of independence.”
Persons with disabilities are encouraged to use the GO GEORGE bus service and will be assisted by passenger support staff, if needed, until they feel confident to travel on their own. Please call the GO GEORGE Call Centre on 0800 044 044 for more information or to request support.