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Record return for Wheelchair Wednesday

As Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Athol Trollip committed himself to a Wheelchair Wednesday exercise, SPAR Eastern Cape and the Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities (APD) announced a record handover of wheelchairs today.

In its fifth year, the APD initiative, backed by SPAR EC, saw enough funds raised to provide 152 wheelchairs for those in need, bringing the overall total to 521 chairs since the first project in 2011.

Wheelchair Wednesday traditionally takes place in August and sees celebrities and company representatives spending four hours in a wheelchair at a shopping centre to experience the challenges which face those with disabilities.

They were tasked with completing simple daily chores, such as using an automatic teller machine, buying groceries and visiting a coffee shop, to better understand the real-life challenges faced by people with disabilities.

At a function hosted by Access Management at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, SPAR EC promotions and advertising manager Wendy Westraadt said the project was "something which touched out hearts".

The executive mayor was equally humbled by the occasion. Welcomed as one of the VIPs, Trollip said afterwards: "The real VIPs are the people who go out of their way to assist people who can't help themselves.

"I know we have to do a lot more in government to take care of people with disabilities. And that's not to take care of them in a patronising way, but to make them feel part of society.

"I have now committed myself to a Wheelchair Wednesday next year because I think it's important for people who are able-bodied to understand how difficult it is to live in society if you are disabled."

Westraadt paid tribute to the many companies and celebrities who had thrown their weight behind the project.

"We came on board because we know there is a very deep need which must be filled and it's one of our favourite events of the year," she said.

"I want to thank all those businesses who have taken the time to personally experience being in a chair for four hours and who have invested financially in getting these chairs to people who previously had been without any form of mobility.

"Without you, none of this would have been possible."

Besides assisting those in need, Westraadt said SPAR's involvement was also focused on making sure their stores provided a comfortable shopping experience for those in wheelchairs.

This included making sure there were clean baskets which wheelchair users placed on their laps, accessible aisles and staff who understood the needs of those who had disabilities.

APD executive director Brian Bezuidenhout said they were delighted at achieving their target of raising funds for at least 150 wheelchairs.

"This year has been absolutely amazing. Last year we handed out 120 and this time we set ourselves the target of achieving 150 wheelchairs," he said.

"When you consider the economy, we are very happy with our achievement and very grateful to our sponsors SPAR, who have been absolutely amazing in supporting us for the last four years."

Bezuidenhout said there were an estimated 100 000 people with disabilities in Nelson Mandela Bay.

"About 10 per cent of those are wheelchair users and I can tell you half of them don't have wheelchairs.

"The corporates have been amazing, with a lot of repeat supporters, as well as new people coming on board. And that's why it is growing each year."

At the SPAR Wheelchair Wednesday handover ceremony at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium today were (back, from left) SPAR EC promotions and advertising manager Wendy Westraadt, APD executive director Brian Bezuidenhout, SPAR promotions and advertising controller Roseann Shadrach, executive mayor Athol Trollip, SPAR promotions and advertising assistant Debadene Baatjies, and (front, from left) wheelchair recipients Vuyisile Maewe, JK Mbola and Nombulelo Ntingila. Photo: Leon Hugo

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