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Advocating for the rights and inclusion of intellectually disabled people, while essential, is not an easy hurdle to overcome. We all posture for creating a society that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, but making space for those who may have difficulties in learning and remembering tasks, can be frustrating for normal people who very often lack patience and understanding.

However, to develop a society that includes all, we need to ensure that all have access to opportunities – and that our society is geared to support everybody’s participation. To lead this way of thinking, means we have to consider ways we can advocate for the rights and inclusion of intellectually disabled people.

Research and Data Collection

Crucial for informed advocacy, is the need to conduct research and collect data on the needs, challenges and experiences of intellectually disabled individuals. Before beginning with any advocacy programme or campaign, a needs assessment must be conducted on specific challenges faced in areas such as education, employment, and healthcare. All purposes should address the actual needs of intellectually disabled people, and be monitored for effectiveness.

Raising awareness and educating the public

One of the fundamental steps in advocacy is raising awareness and educating the public about intellectual disabilities, and the difficulties these disabilities may cause. Misconceptions and stigmas often arise from a lack of understanding and accurate information.

  • Launching a public awareness campaign can be very effective in getting the message out there. Through various media channels – both digital and traditional – stories of individuals with intellectual disabilities can be shared, highlighting their achievements, and dispelling myths.
  • Organising workshops and seminars in schools, workplaces, and community centres is another way to provide in-depth information. These sessions can include interactive activities, guest speakers, and educational materials.
  • There should be strong and positive persuasion to advocate for children with intellectual disabilities to be integrated into mainstream classrooms, thus promoting understanding and acceptance in peers from an early age.

The law, discrimination, accessibility, and guardianship

It hardly needs to be explained that legal advocacy is crucial for ensuring the rights of intellectually disabled people are protected, and they are provided with equal access to opportunities.

  • There should be constant advocation for the implementation and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws that will protect intellectually disabled people from discrimination in employment, education, healthcare, and other areas.
  • In addition, it’s vital to insist on the development and enforcement of accessibility in public and private spaces, ensuring that facilities and services are easily accessible to intellectually disabled individuals.
  • Guardianship is a crucial area to keep in mind. Legally, intellectually disabled people should have the right to make their own decisions, with appropriate support where necessary, rather than being placed under restrictive guardianships.

Community, self-advocacy and partnerships

Participation is the key word here. Develop and promote inclusive recreational programmes that allow intellectually disabled individuals to participate in sports, arts, and other activities alongside their peers.

  • Establish community support networks that provide resources, assistance, and companionship to intellectually disabled people and their families. These networks can include support groups, mentoring programmes, and social activities.
  • Advocate for inclusive employment practices that provide intellectually disabled individuals with meaningful job opportunities. This means working with businesses willing to develop inclusive hiring practices, providing necessary accommodations, and support workplace diversity.
  • Empowering intellectually disabled individuals to advocate for themselves is a powerful way to promote their rights and inclusion. This means facilitating the creation of groups where intellectually disabled people can come together, share their experiences, and advocate for their rights. It follows that providing training in leadership, public speaking, and confidence building is important.
  • Education and training is a key card. To provide intellectually disabled individuals with the skills and knowledge to succeed, specialised educational programmes need to be developed to prepare individuals for the workforce. Ensuring access to quality education and vocational training is vital for the personal and professional development of intellectually disabled people. Encouraging and supporting lifelong learning and personal growth is essential.

The story of Sunfield Home

Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals.

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities. An employment scheme has also been developed and as a result permanent and successful positions have been found within the surrounding wine and cheese industries.