Intellectual Disability Awareness Month: Ensuring inclusion for persons with intellectual disability

SAFMH News Room

Intellectual Disability Awareness Month (IDAM) is celebrated annually in March. For 2022, the SA Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) will be focusing on the theme “Ensuring inclusion for persons with intellectual disability’’ focusing on raising calls for persons with intellectual disability (ID) to be included in all areas of life.

Inclusion is defined as “the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure” (Merriam Webster). In support of the theme of “inclusion”, SAFMH will be highlighting a number of areas in which persons with ID need to start experiencing higher levels of inclusion, namely community, education, employment as well as inclusive access to resources.

Social inclusion and exclusion are important determinants of health. When persons feel socially connected it can play a big role in the mental and physical health of the individual, as well as of the wider community (Deitz et. al 2020). Persons with disabilities often experience discrimination and exclusion (Scior and Werner 2016), which can impact negatively on their overall well-being and participation in wider society.

A truly inclusive society will reflect a mentally healthy society, one that encourages belonging and connection (VicHealth 2005). It is our hope that this campaign will highlight the necessary reasons for people with ID to be included in every part of life, not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of society as a whole.

  1. Inclusion in the community

Being part of our community gives us a sense of belonging. It can bring us many positive outcomes such as connection and a sense of security – and is central to well-being and living a meaningful life (WellBeingPeople 2020). Persons with ID are often not included in many community activities, and whilst this can be incredibly isolating, it also strips them of being a valuable contributing member of their communities (WHO 2011).

  1. Inclusion in education and employment

Persons with disability experience high levels of unemployment or work in precarious, part-time jobs, making it almost impossible to earn a decent income (Trani et. al 2020). Similarly, persons with ID continue to face obstacles and barriers when it comes to accessing education. Even in schools that focus on children with special educational needs, there is a level of segregation and othering that happens to children with ID (Taub and Foster 2019).

  1. Access to adequate resources (ensuring adequate resources are available and accessible to empower persons with ID and thus enable development and inclusion)

Despite various international and national legislation and policies, persons with intellectual disability do not enjoy the same rights as the rest of society, and this impacts their ability to access resources equitably (Department of Social Development 2015). SAFMH is of the opinion that persons with ID should have equitable access to resources, which will enable them to develop more effectively in society and foster more inclusion into daily life.

  1. Stigma and discrimination

ID provokes different reactions from people. While many people show sympathy, compassion or a willingness to help towards “visible disabilities”, ID often elicits negative reactions such as anxiety, pity, avoidance or even antagonism or disgust, which arise because of stigma (Scior & Werner, 2016). Persons with ID experience discrimination to the extent that it prevents them from participating in social life and developing and exercising their personal capacities to their full extent (Bruggemann et al, 2018).

Our call to action

SAFMH believes that the continued exclusion experienced by persons with ID, in so many dimensions of their lives, can be mitigated if key stakeholders make the commitment to design and meaningfully implement inclusive policies. As such, SAFMH is calling for this commitment to place more focus on setting concrete and measurable goals around inclusion. In particular, we call on the South African government to commit to working with and including persons with ID in all stages of developing, implementing and evaluating adequate policies and practices aimed at inclusivity. This includes active encouragement for organisations, communities, education institutions and businesses to do the same. This must include the use of evidence-based instruments and tools with which to measure these goals by.

As SAFMH, we are also undertaking a portrait series called: Through my Eyes. For this activity, we are developing a portrait series and exhibition that will form part of the IDAM 2022 campaign. Working with a professional photographer and community-based organisations, we will capture pictures of persons with ID.

We will share their stories, their potential and their beauty through these photographs. Because stigma and discrimination are two of the most potent factors that influence a person’s wellbeing when they have a disability (The University of Witwatersrand, 2020) we hope that by engaging the viewer to see into the eyes of the participants of the series, we can create a shared understanding of the equality and potential of persons with ID, thus highlighting the need and value for inclusion of these individuals.

Take a look at our infographic here.

For enquiries, please contact:

Michel’le Donnelly – Project Leader: Advocacy & Awareness
CELL: +27 (0)79 799 6533
EMAIL: michel’



Feature image courtesy of Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

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