People with intellectual disability want the same things as everybody else. They want a sense of belonging and purpose, and a chance to make friends and enjoy life. Unfortunately, many people are held back because of the stigma and bullying they endure as a result of people’s ignorance about the rights of persons with intellectual disability and discrimination.
March is Intellectual Disability Awareness Month and for people living with intellectual disability, it is a chance for their voices to be heard in an awareness campaign that calls for community inclusion after almost two years of COVID-19 and lockdown isolation. People living with intellectual disability are already excluded from day-to-day activities, like mainstream schools, affordable and accessible public transport, access to jobs with the necessary support in place, and community activities. For them, COVID-19 has only exacerbated this isolation.
An intellectual disability is defined as the impairment of cognitive functioning, characterised by a person having an IQ score of less than 70, given that the average IQ is 100. According to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, intellectual disability originates during the developmental period and is characterised by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behaviour, which is expressed in a person’s conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills.
For some people with intellectual disability who have other medical conditions, their low immune system meant that they were more vulnerable to all the COVID-19 variants, forcing them to be confined in their homes for long periods during the pandemic. The lockdown, however, not only kept people safe from the virus but also prevented them from interacting with other people ̶ and this isolation could have resulted in a deterioration of their mental well-being.
The reality is that people with intellectual disability have been excluded from their communities for much longer than the past two years; this is why this year’s Intellectual Disability Awareness Month is dedicated to Ensuring inclusion for persons with intellectual disability. This theme, chosen by the South African Federation for Intellectual Disability Awareness Month (IDAM) 2022 in partnership with Cape Mental Health, addresses the need for inclusion of people with intellectual disability in community life, education, employment, and access to resources. The theme also explores stigma and discrimination as the main drivers of exclusion.
“Intellectual Disability Awareness Month provides us with the opportunity to raise awareness about the emotionally harmful consequences of stigma and exclusion of persons with intellectual disability. We all long to be accepted and included and, not to be judged by our differences. It is therefore our responsibility to embrace Ubuntu and remove the barriers that prevent people with intellectual disability from contributing and participating in education, employment, community and family life. Once you remove the “dis” in disability “ability” becomes the focus of attention”. Inclusion has to be intentional and conscious in order for us to remove the social and structural barriers which people with intellectual disability face daily – we all have a responsibility in this regard,” says Dr Ingrid Daniels.
In March, Cape Mental Health calls for an inclusive society so that people with intellectual disability are fully welcomed, included, and accommodated in the communities in which they live. The organisation will raise awareness about the rights and abilities of people with intellectual disability, in the media and through online inclusion activities. Training Workshops Unlimited (TWU), a programme of Cape Mental Health, will also host its Trolley Race to include persons with intellectual disability in a fun community event, to showcase their abilities and raise much-needed funds for TWU.
Cape Mental Health will also lobby government to improve access to resources for people with intellectual disability so that they can enjoy the same rights as everybody else.
- Many children do not have a place to go to learn because there are insufficient special education schools for children with special needs. This means that children who can learn, albeit at a different pace, are immediately marginalised and face a life with little progress and few opportunities. Special Education and Care Centres take care of many children who should ideally be placed at an affordable special school. IDAM 2022 is calling for equal access to education for all children, irrespective of their abilities.
- Access to resources like transport impacts every part of a person’s life. A more accommodating public transport system would mean that persons with an intellectual disability can travel to the clinic, go to school or work, and lead a full and productive life.
- Access to information in an Easy-to-Read format is also vital to people who struggle to read and facilitates the right to understand information that is important to them.
- People with intellectual disability have the right to work but struggle to find a job, because of discrimination against them. They are often overlooked, and their value is diminished. However, with the correct training, people with a mild to moderate disability can do many of the jobs that other people can do – such as; working in shops, factories, gardening enterprises, or the building industry. Training Workshops Unlimited (TWU), a project of Cape Mental Health, is a specialised training programme that trains people with different abilities in work and life skills. TWU advocates for the rights of people with intellectual disability so that they can enjoy a better quality of life.
People with intellectual disability deserve fair treatment and a chance to live a happy and purposeful life. Cape Mental Health calls for the inclusion of persons with intellectual disability and a fundamental mind shift so that they can enjoy equitable access to community life and resources, education, employment, and mental health.
For more information
Cape Mental Health is an award-winning organisation, recognised at national and international level for our innovative mental health services to persons with emotional adjustment problems, and those with mental disability (intellectual and or psychosocial). Our mission is to provide or facilitate comprehensive, proactive, and enabling mental health care services in the Western Cape. We are committed to challenging socially restrictive and discriminatory practices affecting the mental health of all people. Our work is underpinned by a commitment to quality, excellence, and professionalism. www.capementalhealth.co.za