PROFILE Enabling Support services for persons with Disabilities
20 February 2018
EDWINA Makgamatha knows first-hand the struggles and shame of not being able to access services because of a disability.
This is why she decided to start a business that helps those like her to easily receive medical supplies like catheters in the comfort of their homes with her business Thusanang Enabling Support Services. She co-runs the business with Sandra Khumalo, a rowing Paralympian champion who also uses a wheelchair.
Makgamatha, 33, is wheelchair user after a car accident. It was after her release from hospital when she realised the problem of getting supplies for her medical needs.
“I needed a new catheter. Most people don’t know what size their catheter is or where to get it. You move around pharmacies and you have to demonstrate to them the size. That’s embarrassing because by the time you go looking for a new one, the one you have is old. “That is what got me to say: ‘now that I know how to get these things, can I not make them accessible for everyone?’”
Rather than deliver to a post office, she chose the home delivery system because it is more comfortable for people with disabilities.
“This service is run by a person with a disability who understands the challenges better. We understand exactly what the other person is going through. You cannot deliver at the post office because that is inaccessible to them we make sure we deliver items to their doorstep.”
With home deliveries, Makgamatha is also able to offer her clients advice on using the products and how to avoid infections, or more general advice on coping with their disability.
After an accident at 21, she dealt with the trauma of being told as a young woman she may not be able to have children after breaking her pelvic bone.
“I felt this void inside,” Makgamatha said. But, two years after the accident, Makgamatha had her first son and, a year later, her second.
But the happiness of her miracle children was short-lived when she had a second car accident, this time a hit-and-run by a drunken driver which left her spine broken. The driver was never arrested.
“In the beginning it used to make me bitter because justice was not served. But I realised it’s not going to serve me any joy to do that, so I let it go.”
Makgamatha spent over three months in a rehabilitation centre in Pretoria and despite news that she would never walk again, she chose to remain positive.
“There was a lady who shared a ward with me. She was way worse than me. She had quadriplegia, diabetes and high blood pressure. All she wanted to do was have one arm move so she could brush her teeth properly.
“That’s it. That’s all she wanted. That uplifted me,” Makgamatha said.
She made a commitment to live an independent life and not feel sorry for herself.
After months of rehabilitation she was surprised at how the outside world was not suited to her needs as wheelchair user.
“Being discharged was challenging because South Africa is not an accessible place at all (for people with disabilities). It is difficult, I was confident and wanted to go out there and live my life, but you go to the mall and there are stairs everywhere and you have to ask people for help.”
She also had to readjust caring for and nurturing her young children.
“If I wanted to play with them I would put them on my lap. The big one would push me (in the wheelchair) and move around the yard. With a disability you always have to find ways to make these things happen,” she said.
Makgamatha believes being independent, parenting and running a business as a person with a disability should not be the exception, but the norm. She said all persons with disabilities wanted to do is be able to participate fully in society.
“People are not aware about disability in general; not only physical but all the other types like being blind or deaf.
“There are a lot of challenges for people with disabilities. They are given jobs at call centres. There are a lot of qualified people out there (but) they do not get hired for what they are worth.
“Ergonomics (or designing or arranging workplaces, products and systems so that they fit the people who use them) is very important, you need to be comfortable and be accommodated,” she said.
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