Vhembe gets its first disability-friendly driving school

An NGO in Vhembe has started a driving school for disabled people.
An NGO in Vhembe has started a driving school for disabled people.

Unique Me, an organisation that empowers and advocates for the rights of people living with disabilities, has established the first driving school for people with disabilities in Vhembe. According to founder Uafhindula Lalamani, the organisation received several pleas from disabled people who need help getting to and from their employment, or job interviews.

“Having worked with disabled people for years – especially during our annual Miss Congeniality contest [a beauty contest in Vhembe for women with disabilities] – I realised most of them have concerns about not being able to drive. They believe this hinders their chances when they apply for employment, as most employers want to hire someone with a driver’s licence,” says Lalamani.

Over the years, lack of employment opportunities for disabled people in Vhembe has been a major concern to both residents and government, and prompted Vhembe and Thulamela municipalities to encourage disabled people to start their own businesses, or pursue crop farming, as a way out of poverty.

“Although we hoped to offer lessons for free, we are forced to charge a small amount for petrol use and to process the necessary documents needed for a Person with Disability driver’s licence. This amount also includes advanced driving skills and fetching people from their homes,” says Lalamani.

Working world designed for the able-bodied

According to the White Paper on the Rights of Persons Living with Disabilities, published in 2016, disabled people living in rural, impoverished areas and on farms are less likely to access employment opportunities because of transport difficulties, and lack of accessible and affordable specialised services and opportunities.

“Most of our brothers and sisters who live with disabilities struggle to get jobs, as without a driver's licence, they need to travel long distances,” says Lalamani. He adds that he’s “worried and angry when disabled people get mistreated on public transport, as sometimes drivers and commuters get impatient with them”.

And when disabled people want their own transport to and from work, there is a lack of driving schools that cater to disabled people’s needs.

According to the 2016 Statistics SA General Household survey, 4,7% of South Africans aged five years and older were classified as disabled, with disability being more prevalent among females, than males.

Hi-tech solutions

Unique Me uses a vehicle that’s specially made for a variety of disabilities – from amputees to those who are partially sighted.

“We use a vehicle that’s been designed in a way to accommodate people who live with various disabilities. The vehicle can be used by a person who doesn’t have hands or legs, and we’re also able to accommodate those who are partially sighted. We believe that if disabled people are all taught how to drive, and get considered for top jobs based on their qualifications, they can lead normal independent lives,” Lalamani tells Health-e News.

In conjunction with the specially adapted car, Unique Me have dedicated themselves to connecting businesses and potential employers to disabled people, in the hopes of fostering entrepreneurship and upskilling.

“We have visited various business people, pleading with them to consider adopting a disabled person and teaching them about business, so they can acquire relevant skills. This can then empower them to start their own businesses, and create jobs for themselves and others.”

‘There’s someone who cares about us’

Uadivha Raduheli from Ha-Makhuvha village, outside Thohoyandou, lives with fibular hemimelia, a disability where the fibula bone is shortened or missing, leading to one leg being shorter than the other. He believes the driving school will play a vital role in empowering disabled villagers in all aspects.

“I am happy as I can see that they are people out there who really care about our needs as people with disabilities. Some of us failed to acquire our driver’s licence because none of the driving school’s could accommodate our special needs,” says Raduheli.

Raduheli also believes that having a driving license will improve the chances of disabled people getting jobs and being more self-sufficient.

“This new development will help us find employment, because when applying for jobs these days, having a driver’s license is a must. We need such initiatives to empower ourselves and be independent as disabled people,” he says. 

Although the school has been operating for a few weeks already, a formal launch is set for March 12.

– Health-e News

Image credit: Viktor Theo, unsplash.com

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