BBF Safety Group recently participated in the Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities’ (APD) Wheelchair Wednesday initiative to experience what life is like for people with physical disabilities.
BBF is a proudly South African company driven not only by performance, but also a desire to bring about meaningful change. As Silvia Ceriani, the group’s CEO explains, “We want to positively impact the communities in which we operate, the people we employ and the network of suppliers and clients we do business with.”
Speaking of BBF’s recent involvement in the Wheelchair Wednesday campaign, Vanessa Ronald, BBF Safety Group senior brand manager says, “Port Elizabeth has been home to one of BBF’s safety footwear manufacturing facilities since 1941, employing 450 people on a permanent basis. So when we were approached by APD to take part in in this campaign, it was a perfect fit with our business.”
Wheelchair Wednesday is an initiative of the APD Nelson Mandela Bay that has taken place every August since 2011. The campaign has four key focus areas:
• Increasing awareness around the challenges faced by people with physical disabilities.
• Providing wheelchairs to those who need them.
• Improving accessibility in the built environment.
• Raising funds to support the ongoing activities of the APD.
Every Wednesday during the month the programme runs, 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 with 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.
Nic Ndawonde, one of BBF’s key account managers for the area, took part this year on behalf of the business, and describes the experience as nothing short of life-changing. “It’s an experience more people should have – it wakes you up to the realities that other people face on an everyday basis,” he says.
When talking about his four hours, Ndawonde 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, including 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 properly go to a grocery store without someone to help open fridge doors or reach for high sitting items. He 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 explains.
Ndawonde ends by describing how the experience reminded him in a very real way of the impact business can have on communities – literally changing lives. He encourages companies to get involved and help where they can, explaining how one of the things he realised is that the smallest contributions can have the biggest impact on those who truly need it. “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 Ceriani.
For more details about the APD Nelson Mandela Bay and the Wheelchair Wednesday initiative visit www.apdnmb.org.za or call the organisation at (041) 484 5426.