Cape Mental Health Celebrates Intellectual Disability Month

SAFMH News Room

By Cape Mental Health

Cape Mental Health (CMH) celebrated Intellectual Disability Awareness month in March and this year we focused on the visibility and inclusion of people living with intellectual disability as we shape a ‘new normal’ during the global pandemic. It is imperative that, as we rebuild our society, we include persons with intellectual disability to ensure that their voices are heard and that they are represented in our spheres of society. We need to challenge the barriers that impede the realisation of the rights of persons with intellectual disability.

CMH Special Education Care Centres:

One of the ways in which CMH has been able to ensure continued support to persons living with intellectual disability, is with the roll-out of remote services since the start of South Africa’s COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Our pro-active leadership pre-empted the implementation of a national lockdown and effectively managed and developed virtual mental health services that continue to the present day in a hybrid model of service provision that includes both virtual and partial in-facility services.

One of the prongs of this innovation is the innovative implementation of a scheduled day programme for children with severe and profound intellectual disability registered at our 3 Special Education and Care Centres. Our aim has been to ensure that the children receive continued care and stimulation for their development and that parents and guardians are supported and encouraged to maintain the day programme during lockdown.

Easy-To-Read programme:

The March campaign called for the inclusion of persons with intellectual disability and upholding their dignity and provided a platform for CMH to advocate for action to take place at all levels of society so that persons with intellectual disability can access essential health care and appropriate information.

In September 2019, CMH commissioned the first roll-out of the Easy-to-Read (ETR) programme within South Africa by establishing a dictionary of pictures to form the basis of ETR in future.

ETR follows specific guidelines and is closely edited to express ideas in a limited number of simple words. Sentences should have no more than 10 to 15 words, with each sentence having just one idea and one verb; each complex word or idea is therefore explained in a separate sentence. Active sentences (where the subject of the sentence performs the action) are used instead of passive sentences (where the subject has something done to it by someone or something else).

An ETR document is usually presented in at least 14-point text, in a sans-serif font, is limited to 24 pages of content, and includes carefully selected images to help people understand.

These documents are then proofread by a group of diverse persons with intellectual disability comprising our proofreading committee.  They give feedback on all the text and images used in the draft ETR document which is then integrated into the document order to meet their approval.

CMH is in the process of writing all relevant documents, posters, letters, PowerPoint presentations and notices in Easy-To-Read format. This will allow persons with intellectual disability to have access to information in a medium that they will be able to understand. A further roll-out of this programme includes the training of 25 key persons in the South African Federation for Mental Health on how to write documents in ETR and to market document-writing services at Cape Mental Health to government and non-government partners in the disability sector.

According to the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2015), service users with intellectual disability have the right to access information that is easy to read and to understand. Being able to access information in a way they can understand will empower them to learn, make decisions for themselves and be included in society.

Easy-to-Read (ETR) can help us communicate with people who:

  • Have intellectual disability
  • Have a learning disability
  • Do not speak English as their first language
  • Have basic reading skills

Dr Ingrid Daniels, Cape Mental Health’s CEO and President of the World Federation for Mental Health, urges the South African government to take the necessary steps in adopting the framework set out by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and make the rights of persons living with intellectual disability a priority.

“We believe in the self-advocacy of persons living with intellectual disability. The mind-set of society that people with intellectual disability cannot be fully included and integrated should be challenged based on their inherent right to be included in all spheres of their lives.

In conjunction with this, we call on the government to invest in the upscaling of mental health services to realise and restore the dignity of those living with mental disorders. COVID-19 presents particular challenges for this vulnerable group of people who should not be ignored.”

Cape Mental Health is dedicated to advocating for the inclusion of the mental health policy and its implementation within our South African health agenda as well as generating awareness around the importance of mental health. As a society, we should work towards creating inclusive environments for people with intellectual disability and create a sustainable environment for everyone – leaving no-one behind.

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