Disabled Access to Tourist Facilities


27 May 2003
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

27 May 2003

Ms G Mahlangu (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Submission
The following documents will be available shortly:
Tourism Hospitality and Sport Education Training Authority (THETA) Submission
Tourism Grading Council of South Africa Submission
South African Human Rights Commission Presentation

South African Human Rights Commission briefed the Committee on disabled rights in South Africa. The discussion that followed centred on transport for the disabled and facilities at National Parks. The Tourism Hospitality and Sport Education Training Authority (THETA) briefed the Committee on its training programmes. The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa briefed the Committee on the new grading system for assessing disabled friendliness in tourist facilities. The Tourism Business Council spoke about the international move towards "assisted travel". The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism briefed the committee on the training of tour guides and the number of historically disadvantaged individuals in the tourism industry.

The issue of ensuring that the benefits of tourism in South Africa was not only reaped by a few, but was acccessible to a broader and more representative community was discussed.

Ms Mahlangu enquired why the benefits from tourism were not filtering down to the majority of South Africans even when there was appropriate legislation in place. In addition she noted that most of the country's tourist destinations were not friendly for the disabled, including members of their own Portfolio Committee. Making destinations user friendly for the disabled was a cost effective exercise.

Presentation by the Human Rights Commission (HRC)
Ms Mokate (CEO, South African Human Rights Commission) said she was grateful for the opportunity to present on the issue of access for the disabled. She said that she would not touch on the broad issues facing the disabled but would concentrate on human rights issues. One of the problematic areas experienced by their training and education centre was that disabled people were hindered because of the lack of understanding and language use of the broader community which makes their situation worse. Dignity is the cornerstone of the South African Constitution and they wished to promote this.

Ms J Cohen (Parliamentary Officer, South African Human Rights Commission) noted that tourism could positively interact with people with disabilities. She said that she wished to place the discussion in a human rights framework but that for the purposes of this discussion she would be focusing on access to the built environment. All people should be able to access the built environment easily, safely and equally.

The focus for the Commission in the following year was on poverty alleviation and the rights of the disabled. There was a disproportionately higher level of disability amongst the poor and those living in remote areas. She drew the House's attention to the Disability Rights Charter (drawn up by Lawyers for Human Rights and representatives from the disabled community) and the United Nations Standards and Rules for the equalisation of people with disabilities. The HRC's 2002 report "Towards a Barrier Free Society" sets out Ms Cohen's presentation in details and expanded on related issues. The report was commissioned in order to audit the current situation and pointed out the inadequacies in current legislation. Ms Cohen said that such legislation was fragmented, often contradictory, lacking a holistic approach and lacking in reference to the constitution and insufficient in its definitions of disability to meet specific requirements.

Discussion should not only centre on access for tourists, but on those people who may benefit from tourism. Although much had been done in South Africa, the HRC still received many complaints. The HRC was currently involved in litigation concerning a disabled woman who was told that the airline carrier she approached did not fly people with disabilities.

Ms Cohen said that it was important to incorporate a developmental approach to disability issues. She noted that NEPAD appeared to be mainstreaming such issues. However the previous week's discussions around the Employment Equity Act highlighted that the country was still lacking in terms of the number of people with disabilities employed. There were still obstacles in the build environment that prevented people from being employed.

Ms Cohen said that tourism was South Africa's external face to the world and she asked what the tourist industry was doing to sensitise tour guides to disability issues and ensure that the benefits from tourism filtered down to people.

Ms Mokate added that poverty could cause the development of disabilities. They would vastly improve the rights of the disabled if South Africa concentrated on socio-economic rights.

Prof L Mbadi (ANC) asked how the HRC would help in poverty alleviation.

Mr September referred to the airline that would not fly disabled people and added that the mainline railway system made no provisions for the disabled who therefore had to use a plane or car to get to Johannesburg, placing an added burden on the poor.

Mr M Moss (ANC) said that he did not only want to see disabled people talking about disabled rights as the issues affected all of society. He related an anecdote about being invited by two Ministers to functions where he could not reach the area where the activities were because he was in a wheelchair. There were many such places all over Cape Town. When Mr Moss last took the plane to Johannesburg it took him an hour to get from the plane to the terminal building. R5000 had to be spent on the wheelchair as it was damaged in the plane. He said if he, as a Member of Parliament had complaints, then the average disabled person was dealing with even worse situations. These issues also affected the elderly and the people who could not see for example.

Mr I Mfundisi (UCDP) said that taking into account that access to the build environment had to be easy, safe and equal, he was interested in how the HRC was mainstreaming these issues in schools.

Ms L Mbuyazi (IFP) said that transport in rural areas was even less user friendly than in the urban areas. When some disabled people collected their pensions they had to be pushed in wheelbarrows, which was undignified. The issue of transport needed to be taken holistically and thus should include the poor.

Mr J Le Roux (NNP) asked if the facilities at the National Parks catered adequately for the disabled.

Mr Moss said that there was room for improvement but that in his experience the access was fine. He added that he had to sit in the front of the game vehicles and thus missed a lot of the guided tour. He said the area where improvement was needed was facilities for the visually impaired.

Mr S Siddo (Tourism Grading Council of South Africa) said that the South African National Parks was one of the first to take into consideration the disability issues and they had some tours that could be followed in Braille.

Ms Mokate referred to Prof Mbadi question about alleviating poverty. The HRC was promoting and monitoring human rights and promoting the fact that poverty deprived people of their rights. They were taking on board cases such as the disabled access to transport case, prioritising those who could not afford lengthy litigation. She said they also monitored those who had a responsibility to alleviate poverty. She added however that the HRC's reports often went to Parliament and seemed to disappear.

Ms Mokate said mainstreaming disability issues in schools was important so that children could participate in a range of activities and enjoy the company of their piers.

Regarding transport in the rural areas, Ms Mokate said that they were involved in the process of trying to make it more accessible for the disabled and not just in terms of transport for the wealthy. She said that quite a lot of work had been done in the national parks but that more still needed to be done.

A secretariat for the disabled was to be established and the HRC would be helping to set it up.

Ms Cohen said that she had a glimpse of what it was like to be disabled when she had to push a pram around. She was told that in the Nordic countries mothers had lobbied to make the build environment more accessible. There was large group of people to help lobby disabled rights in South Africa. Ms Cohen commented that disability was a social construct in that it was defined in relation to the able bodied.

Ms Cohen said that the HRC report mentioned had further details on access for the disabled and transport.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) said that there were many forms of disability. The blind or deaf often experienced loneliness and isolation. Many had to take their own interpreters or guides on tours. Were they taking cognisance of other forms of disabilities.

Ms Mokate said that not enough research had been carried out in the country on such issues. However at a conference in South Africa this issue was brought up and further discussed in a continent wide conference in Uganda, which would give direction to the issues Ms Chalmers was speaking of.

Presentation by the Tourism Hospitality and Sport Education Training Authority (THETA)
Ms T Villihu (Tourism Hospitality and Sport Education Training Authority) briefed the committee on its training programmes in general. Please see above presentation document for details.

Presentation by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa
Mr Siddo introduced their delegation and said that his colleague, Mr P Thompson would brief the committee on how the Council was reflecting the issue of access for the disabled.

Mr Thompson said that the development of an accessible tourism product was the subject of many years work. The integration of disability issues in the grading system would address this. There had been many challenges in creating an accessible product. There was a shift internationally to a broader spectrum in tourism and many of the drivers of this shift in North America and Europe were the elderly.

The approach had been to develop a framework to meet all needs of all tourists, which included looking at linguistic diversity. The major components of the system were transport, food, sports and recreation. Adventure and special leisure posed quite a challenge in terms of incorporating the disabled. The National Parks were being scrutinised in their endeavours so far.

Mr Thompson said that there were at present no accessible trains for the disabled (although the Blue Train had an accessible coach, it was burned down). Metro Rail was trying but huge backlogs exist in rolling stock and station infrastructure is sill very inaccessible. The most difficult area was in "bridging the gap" i.e. in a disabled person getting form the platform to the train.

Accommodation in general was increasingly accessible, but a database was needed so that people knew where to find such places.

The least accessible were tourist attractions such as heritage and historical sites. Even Robben Island was not fully accessible, but he said that more was afoot to change this. The World Cups of rugby and cricket had highlighted the extent of accessibility and questions had been asked in parliament. Mr Thompson commented that he was not sure whether the right answers had been given.

The objectives of the Accessible Grading System were: to provide a reliable database of accessibly, graded tourism products for tourists with special needs, the promotion of universally accessible tourism. The last objective would help in demystifying accessible tourism and those in the industry were already asking how they could provide accessibility in their facilities.

The accessibility grading would be separate form the normal grading (for example star rating) but adjacent to it on the hospitality plaque. It would be a voluntary system on the part of those in the industry but driven by the market while still having to meet certain minimum standards of accessibility. They were focusing on establishing grading systems in the following sectors: communication limitations, mobility limitations and visual limitations. In reality some establishment would be more able to meet the standards in one sector versus another. The grading would consist of four categories in each sector, namely C1 to C4, M1 to M4 and V1 to V4. A M1 grading for example would mean that a facility is accessible with a walking aid (which would be a minimum standard for grading), M2 would mean accessible by wheelchair and a M4 grading would designate that a facility was fully accessible and comfortable for a mobility impaired individual.

Ms Thompson cautioned that they needed to guard against making the system so difficult that no one joined. He said that the Council was in the final stages of developing the criteria and that they would officially launch the system before October 2003. There was still much to be done in adventure tourism, for which grading would be difficult.

Presentation by Tourism Business Council of South Africa
Ms T Abrahams said that although she sits on the Grading Council and the Hospitality THETA's council she was at the meeting in her capacity as a member of the Tourism Business Council.

She said that many things had changed since 1994 when she and two colleagues in wheelchairs had visited the president's office to talk about issues around access for the disabled. Her colleagues had to be carried up the stairs, as there was no access for the disabled.

Ms Abrahams said that she wanted to address the issue from the private sector perspective, which was driven by the market and profit. There was a growing market of "assisted travellers". At Indaba, a growing number of tourist guides cater for assisted travel. There was a strong input from the disabled travellers sector at the World Peace Through Tourism Conference.

Ms Abrahams said that when the famous scientist, Stephen Hawking, who had little mobility, expressed a desire to go to India and see the Taj Mahal, the authorities in India bent over backwards to accommodate him. A niche market was created after they improved access to the Taj Mahal. Ms Abrahams said that she was shocked however that disabled people had not been able to visit the Taj Mahal until Stephen Hawking visit.

The elderly tourist sector was growing and therefore the assisted and disabled travel sector was growing. New York recently conducted an audit of their facilities in terms of accessibility for the disabled. They are marketing themselves as disabled friendly and Los Angeles is soon to follow suite. In Europe the disabled and elderly were a large market with expendable income. Ireland had bid for the Disabled Olympics and had made itself disabled friendly and was now living off the investment.

Ms Abrahams said that many in the public sector that receive government subsidies should be persuaded to cater for disabled access. She said that in the private sector they wanted to belong to a grading system not so much out of a sense of social conscience but because of a growing market.

Mr Moss added that when one makes tourism accessible for the disabled one makes it accessible for others, such as Madiba. He commented that we were all partially disabled when we get old.

Presentation by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Ms Z Chittepo and Dr J Raputsoe (both Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism) briefed the committee on the training of tour guides and the number of historically disadvantaged individuals (HDI) in the industry. See above presentation for details.

Dr Raputsoe added that they were very concerned that there were so few historically disadvantaged individuals being trained (approximately less than 20%) and working as tourist guides. He wanted to see that training providers were also Black.

The Netherlands, Germany and other European countries had offered to help with training tour guides (Germany was already doing so).

Dr Raputsoe cautioned that they did not want a "chew and spit" training mentality where those who were trained do not get jobs, but by the next year they should have a core set of people who could run a training school, with historically disadvantaged individuals meaningfully employed in the industry.

Ms Abrahams said that the Tourism Business Council was involved in tour guiding associations to make them more representative. Those companies that wanted to join the Council had to transform themselves in order to become members. They were working also towards getting the tour assessors to more representative of the broader community.

She said that the professionalisation of tour guiding was still very "disunified".

Ms Mahlangu said that the government had done what it was supposed to in terms of legislation but the problem lay in implementation. The law passed was making the rich richer and not pushing back the frontiers of poverty.

She said that 90% of the fishing companies had African names after the new maritime legislation, but in reality not even 10% were owned by Black South Africans. They had experienced a decade of freedom but to some it was a decade of nothing. Tourism could change this. She said that South Africa was a model for the world. People did not just visit South Africa to see the mountains and sea but to interact with historically disadvantaged individuals. She said they could demystify old-fashioned images of Africa.

Ms Mahlangu painted an apt picture of how the tourism industry was preventing access by the poorer members of the community. The poor could not compete with those who had access to advertising on the Internet and picking up people from the airports in their car and whisking them away. Many of the poor invested much (such as buying cars, quitting other jobs) in the hope that they could benefit from the industry. At the public hearing on these matters many people said that they had given up.

Ms Mahlangu said that the collective present at the meeting needed to say what was going wrong.

Ms Abrahams said that she thought that the issue of how to ensure that a broader base of South Africans access the benefits of tourism was the subject of discussion for the meeting, not access for the disabled. She said that she wanted to discuss the topic.

She said that the Tourism Business Council had taken the issues brought up in the public hearings Ms Mahlangu mentioned to heart. The private sector signed a charter dealing with the issues such as transformation and access.

Ms Abrahams said at the airports companies did not have procurement policy to ensure that people from poor or disadvantaged communities get licenses to pick up passengers for example. Government and parastatals are the biggest procurers of the tourist industry. Many were not given a fair chance in the procurement process for the Cape Town Convention Centre. Telkom, Transnet and Eskom had huge procurement budgets and those with relationships to government had a huge potential to change the situation but did not. In the procurement policy for the World Summit, the government should have specified that if a company gained a contract, they had to show for example a five-year plan addressing transformation. They should have supported the smaller companies in the procurement process.

Ms Abrahams said that it was difficult in the tourist industry because it was difficult to have targets over such a large range of SMMEs, approximately 5% of which were owned by historically disadvantaged individuals. Southern Sun was owned by a company which is 50% owned by historically disadvantaged individuals.

She said one of the biggest obstacles to change was that in an industry where who you know is so important, new people (particularly by historically disadvantaged individuals) trying to enter the industry had to complete with the old relationships of the previous years. When these two groups started building relationships great things happened. Ms Abrahams said that the Tourism Business Council was assisting people to build these relationships.

Mr Moss said that the statistic that less than 20% of those trained as tour guides were historically disadvantaged individuals was a shame. He asked how many of the 20% had jobs and what kind of training the guides received. He said that he received calls form people who had training but could not find jobs in which you had to have connections. Mr Moss said that as the lawmakers of the country, they had to extend legislation in order to get solutions to the problems.

Ms Mahlangu asked what kind of legislation he proposed.

Mr Moss said that for example it should be compulsory for the large hotels to have a certain amount of Black tour guides.

Dr Raputsoe said that there was legislation in place but they needed to review the processes, as there were problems.

Mr M Cassim (IFP) said that if the policy documents were deficient they should insert the necessary changes and address the cause of the problems not the symptoms. In Malaysia Members of Parliament can use a discretionary amount to develop something important in their area. He added that the part of the country from which he is from, has many potential tourist attractions that were not promoted. Members of Parliament should serve in their constituencies regarding the development of tourism and bring information back to Parliament.

Mr Cassim said that a programme could be developed with UNISA for example where training resources were available at constituency offices for students to use and the Department could subsidise the students when they were ready to take the relevant exams. He added that before a budget vote they should be given a CD with all the information regarding tourism on it.

Ms Mokate said that the HRC was supportive of transformation. Quality assurance was also important in training and in monitoring the content of the information about South Africa that Tour Guides disseminate. She said that on a recent bus tour she and her colleagues and guests were embarrassed and offended by some of the remarks of the tour guide. She emphasised that the quality of the training was important.

Ms Villihu agreed that the quality and content of the information the tour guides conveyed was important. Stakeholders should come together to redefine what constituted a good tour guide. She felt that the profile of tour guides also needed to be raised and to make people aware of the impact of what was said.

Ms Abrahams said that one of the shocking things she noticed during the world summit was the variety of terms that people used to describe places and people in South Africa, including terms used in the old regime.

Funding for training was an initiative to help train people to sell South Africa. People who lived in Europe were trained to give people tourist information about South Africa, but ironically when the tourists reach South Africa, the standard of this information decreased.

Ms Abrahams added that the problem was not in the legislation. She felt that popular media needed to be better utilised to highlight these issues. She said that friend of hers who was a historically disadvantaged individual, had spent the last six months trying to start a tourism business and if she had not known Ms Abrahams she would have had no idea on how to get started as information on procedures was lacking. A guide to getting started was needed.

Mr Thompson said that he was concerned that they were just focusing on tour guides. He asked what had happened about developing community-based tourism. This was an area that was needed to create a comprehensive package. An example of this need could be seen in the West Coast communities who were struggling to make a living from fishing. Community based tourism could be developed here. He urged the Committee to expand into this area. Referring to the example of the ownership of the Southern Sun, he said that the fact it was over 50% owned by historically disadvantaged individuals was great but that they needed to ask whether they were in the business of black enrichment or black empowerment. He emphasised that they were not reaching the right level.

Ms Mahlangu said that they should not rush to change legislation all the time. One could say that one needs legislation to persuade white people to employ black people, but she said the problem lay in the fact that black and white were not talking. Unless they communicated they would not break the cycle. She said that they needed to not only look at the problem as black versus white and get people to realise that their fears were unfounded. She supported Ms Abraham ideas of using the media and her impression that it was not just the private sector that needed to transform but also the parastatals. She said that parliament and parastatals should be leading the way.

The meeting was adjourned.


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