South Africans Urged to use Intellectual Disability Awareness Month to Peel Off Demeaning Labels Assigned to Persons with Intellectual Disabilities

SAFMH News Room

It is estimated that 15 billion people are affected by disability across the world, approximately 2% thereof (300 million people) have an intellectual disability (ID). In South Africa, according to the Western Cape Forum for Persons with Intellectual Disability, four out of 100 people are affected by some form of ID. March marks Intellectual Disability Awareness Month (IDAM) and this year, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) will be focusing on the theme “I am able, not a label” in recognition of the important contributions persons with ID make to society. Furthermore, SAFMH wants to use the theme to highlight the importance of respecting the rights of persons with ID by showing that they are more than a disability, stereotype or label that societies often tend to stick on them.

While there are many different conditions associated with ID, persons with ID are often categorised into a range of subgroups that change over time. Even though they are not a homogenous group, research shows that these individuals generally share barriers related to thinking, remembering and communicating, and as a result face, a wide range of socially-constructed assumptions and biases. A significant barrier faced by persons with ID being able to self-determine and make decisions about their own lives is the stigmatising view by others that they are not able to make informed decisions.

Stigma towards people with mental illness is a serious concern, however, stigma aimed at persons with ID has received comparatively little attention. It is true that persons with ID face the same disadvantages and inequalities as other persons with disabilities, however, they often experience additional levels of disadvantages due to:

  1. Their needs being inadequately understood and met;
  2. Having limited recourse to asserting their rights, and lastly,
  3. Not being sufficiently represented, including within Disability Rights movements.

This year, SAFMH’s IDAM campaign focuses on one of the crucial steps in the empowerment of persons with ID by addressing stigma usually perpetuated through labelling and amplifying their voices in order to eradicate stigma. As a result, SAFMH calls on all South Africans to help bring about this change through what the organisation sees as a first step in the right direction, namely addressing the labelling and stereotyping. The organisation will be working with national organisations to spread awareness, and will be participating in awareness activities with NGOs that look after the well-being of persons with ID with the aim of demonstrating their abilities as well as disseminating awareness information on ID, purposefully against labelling.

SAFMH deputy director, Leon de Beer, says the campaign argues that it is high time that all South Africans actively did their part to ensure that the negative labelling and the stigmatisation that invariably follows are challenged and brought to an end.

Simply addressing labelling is not enough to make a significant, lasting difference. Stigma eradicating initiatives such as this need to be backed up by systematic changes and improvements in service delivery to persons with ID and more concerted efforts from government to develop and resource such services and empowerment programmes for the persons with ID across South Africa,” says Mr De Beer.

Because individuals with ID remain ostracised, under-represented and labelled, SAFMH urges South Africans to help construct a more positive narrative about persons living with ID and translate these messages into positive words and deeds. We also call on the nation to celebrate the fact that persons with ID are in fact, able, and not labels.

For enquiries:
Masutane Modjadji
Project Leader: Information and Awareness
011 781 1852

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