In 2011, The World Health Organization1 estimated that there were approximately one billion people with disabilities worldwide, that equates to 15% of the population. In the same year, the South African Census2 tabled the statistics of people living with disabilities at 7.5% of the population. That is 2 870 130 people, with 222 333 of those living in the Western Cape. The domestic universal accessibility tourism market is estimated to be approximately 600,000 potential travellers3, and with Cape Town regularly featuring as a top tourist destination, we can expect a large percentage of those travellers to pass through our city at any given time.
With that number of potential visitors, how does Cape Town fare as an accessible travel destination? Since launching Warrior On Wheels Foundation in 2015, we have been priviliged to witness a genuine willingness in the tourism sector to adapt the way we do business and to give thought to travellers of all abilities, even if facilities are not yet entirely accessible. We are discovering a common-thread of a desire to be inclusive and to make the Mother City’s treasure trove of experiences available to all who cross her welcome mat. While we still have a way to go, we believe with a combined effort on this journey, we can put Cape Town on the map as the accessible travel destination of choice.
Getting Around in Cape Town
Whether arriving or leaving on an international or domestic flight, the Passenger Assist Unit of most of the airlines ensures a streamlined process from arrival to departure. When booking tickets, it is vital to book passenger assistance, which means a passenger assist crew member meets the disabled traveller at check-in and escorts them to the boarding gates, assists with the boarding pass and transfer onto the wheelchair truck that transports passengers to the plane, with use of a slipper seat if necessary – and the same on arrival at the destination.
Once in Cape Town, we are actually fortunate with a few options of transport that are accommodating for travellers with disabilities:
A number of car hire companies have wheelchair accessible vehicles [WAV] available for self-drive hire – whether a passenger just needs a vehicle that can accommodate their wheelchair, or a driver with a disability is able to drive using hand controls, Avis, Drive South Africa, Wav Hire & Cape Town Car Hire all have options available in their fleet.
The increasingly popular mode of transport, Uber, now offer Uber Assist in Cape Town – providing extra assistance for people with mobility challenges. Simply download the app on a smartphone, create a profile and start requesting rides – choosing Uber Assist as the preferred option.
The MyCiti Bus has been recognised as a world leader in universal access. The buses run throughout central Cape Town with routes extending as far as Hout Bay, Century City and Melkbosstrand, making daily commuting accessible on this innovative public transport system that is universally accessible. Buses have boarding bridges, allowing wheelchair users level access from platforms or pavements. They also have tactile paving for visually impaired travellers to locate platforms, and induction loops at kiosks for the hearing impaired.
MLT Car Hire & Tours
MLT have just added their first wheelchair accessible vehicle to their fleet, providing safe and efficient transport for passengers. Their vehicle was manufactured in the USA and adheres to stringent safety standards and features ramp access with 3 metre clearance. It is able to transport 2 wheelchairs and 8 passengers.
An all time favourite tourist activity, the hop-on hop-off bus is an ideal way to explore the mother city, with most of the buses being wheelchair accessible with a fold out ramp. The longstanding City Sightseeing routes, which visit popular tourist attractions like the V&A Waterfront, Long Street, Kirstenbosch, the World of Birds, Mariner’s Wharf and the ever popular wine route, have now been extended with new trips going to explore Franschhoek, a Sunset Bus to Signal Hill for a picnic as the sun dips below the horizon, and a brand new Cape Point day trip.
Cape Sidecar Adventures – for something different and thrilling, Cape Sidecars offer tours in WWII vintage motorbike sidecars. See the sights of Cape Town and surrounds on one of their packages.
Where to Stay
A prime example of the commitment and willingness to adapt and become accessible to all travellers is Cape Nature, who have invested in universal access design in their reserves and enlisted the guidance of organisations equipped to consult on these aspects, with a number of their accommodation cottages already built with wheelchair access in mind, and boardwalks to birdhides and picnic areas, as well as Braille information boards on one of their reserve trails. We, as Warrior On Wheels Foundation, entered into an MOU with Cape Nature to visit a number of their reserves and provide experience-based feedback on accessible facilities.
There are also numerous hotels and guesthouses around the city leading the way towards universal access. Epic Guesthouse in Noordhoek, or Hotel Verde at the Airport Industria have wheelchair accessible rooms, while Park Inn by Radisson Newlands opened their doors with a staff compliment of 30% who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Experiencing Cape Town
There is no shortage of activities in Cape Town and surrounds, but for the disabled traveller it is not always apparent at first glance what is available and accessible. While exploring our city, we are conscious of mobility challenges, like pavements in some areas, and inaccessible buildings in others, but we also become increasingly aware of how universal access is coming to the forefront of design in tourism.
V&A Waterfront – with an abundance of activities, shopping, restaurants and sights, the waterfront is accessible with ramps wherever there are stairs, as well as elevators, sliding doors and accessible toilets.
Cape Wheel – this thrilling activity at the Waterfront that provides a 360 degree panoramic view of Cape Town has two wheelchair accessible cabins, allowing disabled travellers to experience the city from the sky. The cabins have emergency buttons and speedy response to bring passengers back down if needed.
Sea Point Promenade – for the sea lovers, the promenade offers wheelchair users opportunity to join walkers, runners, cyclists and dog walkers for a leisurely amble that wraps around the coastline for an outing as long or short as one feels up to.
Green Point Urban Park – There is something for everyone here, and the pathways are easily manageable – an outdoor gym for fitness enthusiasts, an inclusive playground for families with young children, numerous picnic areas, and some interesting biodiversity gardens to explore. There is also a quiet, zen-like space tucked away in one corner with a labyrinth. While the curving paths of the labyrinth are not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, carefully considered resting benches are situated at points around the labyrinth, each with a space created for a wheelchair and a ‘touch labyrinth’ for a sensory experience while tracing your fingers along the paths. A tea room in the centre of the park provides access with ramps for some refreshments.
Iziko Museum – The Iziko Museum is accessible from the parking area, with designated off-street disabled bays, to the ramped entrance and right throughout the museum, with all levels being accessible by gentle gradient ramp walkways with handrails, for both disabled and able bodied visitors with ample space. There are also elevators.
Company’s Garden – This is a magical place to spend a sunny day in Cape Town. The pathways are wheelchair-accessible making it ideal for a leisurely family stroll through the beautiful gardens. Be sure to buy peanuts from the vendors as you enter for the eager squirrels and pigeons bustling for their share. A restaurant offers refreshments and meals within the tranquil space of the garden.
Two Oceans Aquarium – There is just so much to explore and experience at Two Oceans Aquarium including the predator exhibit, kelp forest and penguin exhibits. The Two Oceans Aquarium is wheelchair-accessible with ramps throughout the building, making up-close encounters at most exhibits accessible.
Chavonne’s Battery Museum – Guests are invited to time travel to relive the early history of Cape Town through fascinating artifacts, detailed displays, exhibits and graphic information boards. Site specific trained guides from local communities dress in period costume, provide guided tours for guests to experience the ambiance of the 17th and 18th century history of Cape Town through interesting stories and anecdotes.
Other popular attractions that are accessible include the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, Cape Point and the Funicular (although the lighthouse is not accessible in a wheelchair there are lookout areas for fantastic views), Kirstenbosch Gardens, Silvermine Nature Reserve which has a boardwalk around the dam and some picnic areas, and the almost one-year-old Zeitz Mocaa Museum.
For visitors to our city who don’t quite feel they want to go exploring on their own and would prefer to have an expert take the wheel of their holiday, tour operators like Epic Enabled, Flamingo Tours and Travel with René offer professional tour services, specifically with access for travellers with disabilities in mind. Their itineraries are sure to have visitors soaking up the best the Cape has to offer with the peace of mind that special needs are taken care of.
1 Manual on Accessible Tourism for All – Public-Private Partnerships and Good Practices, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Fundación ACS, 2015
2 Statistics South Africa – http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/Report-03-01-59/Report-03-01-592011.pdf
3 Cape Town Tourism InfoGraphic http://www.capetown.travel/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/ACT-InfoGraphic-WIP.pdf
*** This is an edited extract from our guest post that was originally posted on the Responsible Cape Town blog.