A mile in someone else’s shoes

A mile in someone else’s shoes

Nic Ndawonde, one of BBF Safety Group’s key account managers, describes his Wheelchair Wednesday experience as nothing short of life-changing. 

Wheelchair Wednesday is an initiative of the Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities (APD), Nelson Mandela Bay, that has taken place every August since 2011. The campaign has four focus areas:

  • Increasing awareness around the challenges faced by people with physical disabilities.
  • Providing wheelchairs to those who need them.
  • Improving accessibility.
  • Raising funds to support the ongoing activities of the APD.

“Port Elizabeth has been home to one of BBF’s safety footwear manufacturing facilities since 1941, employing 450 people on a permanent basis,” says Vanessa Ronald, BBF Safety Group senior brand manager. “So, when we were approached by the APD to take part in in this campaign, it was a perfect fit with our business.”

Every Wednesday in August, a group of business and community leaders spend four hours in a wheelchair as they complete a set of tasks to get a sense of the daily experience of people who have limited mobility. At the end of their day, the wheelchair they have sponsored and used is handed over to a needy beneficiary selected by the APD.

“It’s an experience more people should have – it wakes you up to the realities that other people face on an everyday basis,” says Ndawonde.

When talking about his four hours, he describes how the experience opened his eyes to how many everyday spaces are simply not accessible enough to people with mobility issues, and how disempowering this felt for him. “It’s as though the world is designed for something you’re just not equipped to do,” he explains.

He also detailed the many ways in which he came up against numerous barriers when going about his day. This included having to wait in his car until the driver next to him eventually moved away, allowing him enough space to exit his vehicle; struggling to negotiate tight spaces in public facilities and relying on a friendly citizen to assist him with opening a coin-controlled gate so that he could enter the restrooms;  and not being able to go to a supermarket without someone to help open fridge doors or reach for high-placed items.

Ndawonde says he even struggled with the simple task of drawing money from an ATM because of something as small as the angle of the screen. “It just affects your freedom of movement and sometimes it’s the simplest things you struggle with,” he says.

He says that that the experience reminded him in a very real way of the impact business can have on communities – literally changing lives. The smallest contributions can have the biggest impact on those who truly need it. He encourages companies to get involved and help where they can.

“As a group, we echo his sentiments, and are proud of Nic for taking part in this initiative to help raise the necessary awareness that will assist to bring about change for those living with mobility issues,” says Silvia Ceriani, the group’s CEO.

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