An Introduction to the Accessible South Africa Podcast

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Episode 1 – An Introduction to the Accessible South Africa Podcast


 

Podcast Introduction:

Lois Strachan:
Hi, and welcome to the Accessible South Africa podcast. This is a podcast where we discuss travel in South Africa and beyond for persons with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Lois Strachan. And now, on with the show.

First Episode Introduction:

Lois:
Hi everyone, and welcome to the first episode of the Accessible South Africa podcast. Since this is a brand new podcast, I thought it might be a good idea to start off by introducing myself, and telling you a little bit about what we plan to do with this podcast. So, to start off with – who am I?

My name is Lois Strachan and I‘m a speaker, a writer, a blogger, a disability advocate, a guide dog owner, a sometime rock musician, and now the host of a brand new podcast. I have always loved to travel. I can remember being about six years old and telling my parents that I had a dream of going everywhere in the world, and meeting everyone, and that dream didn’t stop when I became blind at the age of 21. Since losing my sight, I have had the opportunity of visiting 22 different countries, and I can assure you that that number is going to increase as time goes on. When people ask me why I travel as a blind person, I tell them that my reasons are just the same as theirs as sighted people. I travel to experience new places, new cultures, and to broaden my perspective of the world around me. My reasons for travel are no different;  it’s just the techniques that I use to do so, that are. If you’d like to find out more about me as a person, you can find me and my blog on www.loisstrachan.com, you can find me on Twitter @LoisStrachanZA, or on Facebook at Lois Strachan – A Different Way of Seeing. So that’s a bit about me, so now, what about this podcast?

With this podcast I hope to inspire other people with disabilities to travel more. To go out and explore and find out what the world has to offer. We’ll be sharing interviews with other travellers with disabilities, as well as with service providers who are working to make their sites, activities, their restaurants, or their accommodation more accessible to people with disabilities and special needs. We also hope to share information on how to make sites just a little more accessible. The podcast is aimed at anyone with a disability who would like to travel more, to service providers in the tourism industry, and to anyone who would like to learn more about accessible travel. Now that I’ve introduced myself and told you a little bit about what we hope to achieve with the podcast, I’d like to introduce a very special lady who is the driving force behind the Accessible South Africa platform.

Guest Introduction:

Lois:
Today we are going to be talking to Deirdre Gower who is the co-founder of the Warrior On Wheels Foundation, an organisation which arranges activities and adventures for children with disabilities. Deirdre is also the founder of Accessible South Africa. Hi there Deirdre, how are you doing today?

Deirdre Gower:
I’m very well thanks Lois, how are you?

Lois
I’m doing great, thank you. Deirdre would you mind introducing yourself to our listeners and share a little bit of your story with us?

Deirdre: OK, I’m mom to a very special warrior, Damian, who is 19 years old. He is physically disabled and uses a wheelchair to get around in the world and a tablet with a communication app that helps him to communicate. Together we’ve had many adventures together over the years and since he was quite young we’ve had a dream to share these adventures with other families with children with disabilities. Initially the goal was to create an adventure centre that was adaptable for people with all sorts of different abilities, but then when we moved to Cape Town in 2010 we realised what a wealth of opportunity and experiences there are here that we didn’t need to be limited to one particular centre, that there was just so much on offer and that’s where the goal for Warrior On Wheels Foundation started and came into being. The aim of Warrior On Wheels foundation was to get other families with children with disabilities out experiencing tourism products and just getting out there and letting kids be kids.

Lois:
Deirdre, could you tell us a little bit more about the history of Warrior On Wheels Foundation and some of the activities that you’ve arranged so far.

Deirdre:
Yes… so we launched in December 2015, we held our launch at Hotel Verde, and then our very first adventure was in February 2016 where we took 3 children to Ceres Zipslide Adventures, and now we’ve grown to about 70 families who join us on all of our activities. So our main goal is to provide a monthly adventure. We partner with establishments in the tourism industry to make these events possible, so we’ve taken children ziplining, river rafting, horse riding, helicopter rides, boat trips, visits to the theatre, to the aquarium, all sorts of stuff, anything that every child would be enjoying. And then our big annual event is the Cape Town Cycle Tour where we have children participating by being towed in buggies by able-bodied cyclists.

Lois:
Wow! So how many Argus Cycle Tours have you done?

Deirdre:
As Warrior On Wheels Foundation it’s the second year that we’ve participated. In 2012 I was doing the Cycle Tour for the first time and applied for permission to take Damian with me in a buggy attached to my bicycle. Permission was denied, and after appealing to the Cycle Tour organisers, the following year they changed the rules of this 35,000 entrant event to include children in buggies being towed in buggies by able-bodied cyclists. So Damian and I participated for the first time in 2013, so he has now done five Cycle Tours. As Warrior On Wheels we’ve entered in two, last year’s was cancelled because of the weather, this year was the first time we’ve participated as a charity.

Lois:
Wow, that’s amazing! Well done! It sounds to me like a lot of the work you do must be around advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities to be able to access that type of activity and sites? Would you say that the tour providers and activities are willing to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities?

Deirdre:
Definitely. A lot of the service providers that host us, not all of them are completely wheelchair accessible but what we’ve found in the last two and a half, almost three years now, is a genuine willingness to adapt the way they do business, and even if they aren’t entirely accessible, they welcomed us to come along and experience their facilities, and for them it’s a learning curve too as well to see what is possible and how they can adapt to make things accessible for future visitors who come to their establishment, so it’s a win-win for both I think.

Lois:
So the Warrior On Wheels Foundation really laid the framework for the platform that has become Accessible South Africa. Can you tell us a little bit about the link between the two organisations and well, how did Accessible South Africa come about?

Deirdre:
OK, so that’s also been a long-time goal and dream for us as well. It initially started, well not the platform itself, but a kind of idea in that direction, when we did an almost year-long roadtrip I wanted to document on a blog, we called it Warrior On Wheels Travels, and I tried to keep a blog going of places we had visited that were accessible. And then when I started building the Warrior On Wheels website I included a page of places we had found were accessible, but then soon we realised that’s not why people were visiting the Warrior On Wheels website. Our website was a charity, people were coming to us where we are planning adventures for children with disabilities or it was people coming to see how they could support us – it wasn’t travellers coming to our site to plan their holiday, so pretty soon we realised it needed to have its own space and that’s where the Accessible South Africa website came into being – also because a lot of families would, and still do, often ask us “we’re going away for a weekend, where have you been that is accessible?” because they know we travel quite a bit, or “what can we do this weekend that’s wheelchair accessible?” So the idea was to create a one-stop platform where travellers with disabilities can plan their holiday from the moment they get on the plane, to when they land  and they want to go out for dinner that evening, and for the two weeks that they’re going to be staying wherever, the activities that they want to do.  No one wants to sit in a hotel for two weeks without exploring their surrounds.

Lois:
So tell us what’s happening in Accessible South Africa right now.

Deirdre:
It’s been quite a journey to get it to where it is now. It’s had a few setbacks and a few delays, but now at this point where we’re piloting in Cape Town and surrounds it actually seems to be that everything is leading to the perfect space, with the right people coming on board – our team has come together through amazing circumstances, so we’ve got a really strong, dynamic team I think working on the Accessible South Africa platform now, and like I say, we’re piloting in Cape Town and surrounds, we want to build a nice strong resource in the city where we are all based before extending to the other provinces and reaching other areas. So right now we’re looking at building our platform, getting establishments on board, also providing a resource of being able to go and visit establishments, give them feedback from our perspectives. It’s one thing building an establishment to universal standards from a piece of paper, and completely different having people with all sorts of different abilities coming and experiencing those facilities.

Lois:
If any of our listeners were to go onto the platform at www.accessiblesouthafrica.co.za, what services are they likely to find?

Deirdre:
Like I say, we’re still pretty new, we’re in the pilot phase, so there’s not a lot for them to find yet, but they will be able to find accommodation, transport, activities, restaurants, tour operators and equipment hire, anything they would need from the moment they get on the plane and land in our city, or eventually any city in South Africa to make their holiday as comfortable and easy as possible. We want it to be focused on transparency, so when a visitor goes onto an establishments listing on our site, they must be able to see photos, a video clip, and extensive information on what facilities are available. What works for one person in a wheelchair doesn’t necessarily work for the next person in a wheelchair, so if there is enough information provided, people can make informed decisions. So that is the one aspect of what is available on the website, then we’ve also got the blog where we are wanting to feature our experiences, things that have worked for us and just up to date information on universal access and travel in our country; and also a blog interview series where we are chatting to people – either travellers or tourism providers or anybody who has insight into accessible travel. And now, we’re also bringing in our podcast series which I also thing is going to create more opportunity for conversations and collaboration as well, because I think that is key – collaboration between all role-players in this to make sustainable change.  

Lois:
As people who are very involved in seeking out accessible tourism experiences in Cape Town, what are some of the favourite activities and experiences that you and Damian have had so far?

Deirdre:
Aaaah, there are so many. Like I say, we have just found such a willingness in the industry to accommodate and adapt, so I think one of our highlights will always be Ceres Zipslide Adventures. We were in Ceres for a media visit, I can’t remember exactly what it was, it was about three years ago, but one of the activities that we were doing on that visit was the ziplining, and I hadn’t really considered it at that stage, but Angelique just came on board and she said “we’re taking Damian, we’re making this possible,” and we’re both scared of heights but it was the most thrilling experience. So I think that will always be a highlight for us. Things in Cape Town itself, Damian is a big fan of the City Sightseeing red bus, so any opportunity we get we’re on that bus, and it’s got a fold-out ramp which makes it accessible for us and there are some great stops, and Damian has some of his favourites along that route as well. There’s just so much that we get to enjoy – river rafting we’ve loved, Damian loves being in the sky so we did a helicopter ride year before last, no it was last year with Cape Town Helicopters, I could go on forever.

Lois:
It sounds like the two of you have had some really diverse, different adventures, it’s great to hear that so many service providers have been willing and able to accommodate your needs. Just going back to Accessible South Africa, am I correct that the platform is there as a resource for travellers coming into Cape Town, or living in Cape Town, so that they can find out about the information they need to travel before they even get here, or while they are here?

Deirdre:
Definitely, that’s the goal, because at the moment if you’re wanting to travel you’ve got to go through a whole lot of different accommodation booking sites to find your guest house, there are a number of booking sites that do list accessible accommodation, but you’ve got to really search through them, and then once you’ve found where you want to stay, then you’ve got to start phoning around different restaurants to see which ones are accessible for you, or what activities you’re going to do, so you end up spending hours searching through various different sites trying to plan your holiday, whereas we are trying to bring this onto one platform where you can search for all of those facilities in one space and really get proper practical information and help on what is available. Like I say, a focus on transparency, a focus on detailed descriptions of facilities, photographs, video clips – we’re living in a wonderful age with technology making all of those things accessible to us before you even get on a plane.

Lois:
Deirdre, what would you say are the greatest challenges faced by disabled travellers who are planning a trip to Cape Town, or South Africa in general?

Deirdre:
Besides the obvious actual physical challenges of ramps versus staircases, or bathrooms that aren’t accessible, or anything like that, I think it’s access to information. I think that’s the first step – knowing where you can go that is accessible for you and then also I think a lack of communication between role-players. I’ve heard from some aspects, from people in the industry, like hotels saying they are quite scared to promote themselves as accessible because you will get that difficult traveller who finds a real challenge and then makes a big deal about it, whereas if they don’t advertise themselves as accessible they’re not putting themselves in that position to come up against those kind of conflict situations. But that doesn’t help the traveller, so travellers not knowing those places are accessible, they’ve got a lot more searching to do with all these different sites and phoning around for information and everything, so I think access to information is the first challenge, and then the obvious physical challenges – ramps, bathrooms, those kinds of things.

Lois:
Shifting perspective now from the traveller to a possible service provider, what advice would you give to service providers or activities or events that are wanting to make themselves more accessible to travellers with disabilities and special needs?

Deirdre:
I would say invite people with disabilities to come and experience your products, give practical advice, give feedback on what works, what doesn’t work. Like I say, you can build it to textbook standards but until you have people using it you don’t really have an understanding of what needs are. For myself I can manage a small little step with Damian in his wheelchair, the next person can’t. Some people need front access to a toilet and some need side access, so there are a whole lot of things to consider. If you’ve got different people, with different abilities experiencing it, I think that’s a first step, and also not to be scared in taking on this challenge because I think a lot of them think that “to make my place accessible I’m going to have to go and spend thousands and thousands to rebuild my whole place, and sometimes access is a simple as rearranging furniture. So I think that’s the first step, getting people in for practical advice and feedback.

Lois:
In the disability world there is a well-known saying of “nothing for us without us” and I think that’s what I’m hearing you saying, if you really want to check the accessibility of your venue or of your activity, to engage with persons with disabilities to come and test and give you feedback on their experience of trying out your experience, your site, your accommodation, or whatever it is. Would you agree that that’s the case and if so, do you have a team at Accessible South Africa who would be able to help with that process?

Deirdre:
We definitely – our team are available, they’re all keen travellers, keen to experience new things and a big sense of adventure. So our team are willing and able to provide this service. We have quite a few wheelchair users on our team, and yourself and one other visually impaired and hearing impaired team member, so we can provide feedback from those three aspects already.

Lois:
And then your team will be feeding back on their experiences on the Accessible South Africa platforms?

Deirdre:
Like I say there are a number of sites when it comes to accommodation, most of them have a category for universal access, our goal again is to provide that one stop platform so keep checking on our site, we aim to be updating it all the time with new and exciting places to visit, but definitely research – once you’ve booked at a place that is accessible in terms of accommodation, they’re often likely to know what’s available in their area – things to do, where to go, where to eat, that may be accessible as well, if they’ve already gone to that effort of installing facilities. But yes, keep checking on our site, we hope to be growing it and bringing lots of interesting places to see and visit and experience.

Lois:
And speaking about those platforms, where can people find out more about Accessible South Africa?

Deirdre:
On our website it’s www.accessiblesouthafrica.co.za, then we’re also quite active on social media – on Instagram we’re @AccessibleSouthAfrica, on Facebook also @AccessibleSouthAfrica, and on Twitter @AccessibleSA – sharing lots of information there as we visit places and things like that, so yes, get in touch.

Lois:
Bearing in mind that we’re aiming this podcast at potential travellers with disabilities, as well as activities and venues that are trying to make themselves accessible to those travellers, what message would you like to leave with our listeners today?

Deirdre:
I think it’s just to collaborate and share information. I’ve learned from travelling with some of our team members little tips and tricks that work for them that I’d never even considered, so I think this is the aim of our podcast and our blog series, and the Twitter chat that we’re going to launch soon as well, is just to get everybody communicating. Getting people asking questions, getting people sharing their stories, and not being scared to reach out to others I think. So for travellers with disabilities – reach out to the tourism establishments in your areas and see how you can collaborate with them to make facilities better for the next person, and for establishments it’s to reach out to the disabled travellers and get them to visit and get them to share their feedback and share their stories. I think the more people that are working together and not in isolation and own little spaces, the more we can have impact I think. I definitely feel collaboration is key and getting information out there. If I search for information and photos on Instagram or Twitter, there’s a lot of information being pushed by disabled travellers who are experiencing facilities, but there’s not much coming back at us from establishments who have these facilities. So that’s my message: get communicating, get sharing, and be curious.

Lois:
We’ve been chatting to Deirdre Gower, the founder of Accessible South Africa, a platform designed to be a resource for travellers with special needs and disabilities, and the travel industry in South Africa. Deirdre is also the co-founder of the Warrior On Wheels Foundation, which is a foundation that arranges activities and adventures for children with disabilities. Deirdre thanks so much for talking to us today, and for sharing a lot of your knowledge and thoughts about the concept of accessible travel in Cape Town and South Africa. It’s been great to chat to you, and I’m sure we’re going to have you back on the show really soon.

Deirdre:
Thank you. Thank you for your time and for hosting us.

General Outro:

Lois:
That’s it for this time. You can find out more about us on the web at www.accessiblesouthafrica.co.za, on Facebook @AccessibleSouthAfrica or on Twitter @AccessibleSA. You can also email us on podcast@accessiblesouthafrica.co.za. Editing was done by Deirdre Gower and our theme music was by Lui Chee Chau based on a motif by Lois Strachan. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.

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