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Human Rights affect us all. And these rights as they stand today have been carefully considered, collated and notated. They are geared to include all humans – and that includes those with disabilities. In fact, this sector of society deserves special attention over and above the general set of human rights, because they are more vulnerable and open to the abuse of their rights than others.

All persons with disabilities include those who have: long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which – regarding any interaction with various barriers – may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis. Persons with disabilities are clearly recognised by the Bill of Rights as equal and valuable members of society, and should be recognised as such in all aspects of life.

Challenges and rights

However, persons with disabilities can face discrimination and barriers that restrict them from participating in society on an equal basis with others every day. Sometimes they are denied their rights, as follows: to be included in the general school system, to be employed, to live independently in the community, to move freely, to vote, to participate in sport and cultural activities, to enjoy social protection, to access justice, to choose medical treatment, and to enter freely into legal commitments such as buying and selling property.

The protection guaranteed in other human rights treaties, and grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should apply to all. However, persons with disabilities can remain largely ‘invisible’, often side-lined in the rights debate and unable to enjoy the full range of human rights.

In recent years, there has been a revolutionary change in approach globally, to close the protection gap and ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the same standards of equality, rights and dignity as everyone else.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – adopted in 2006 and entered into force in 2008 – signalled a ‘paradigm shift’ from traditional charity-oriented, medical-based approaches to disability, to one based on human rights.

Persons with disabilities may sometimes experience challenges in accessing their rights, which include the following:

  • Lack of awareness of the different types of disabilities amongst society, which results in poor acceptance by communities.
  • As a result of ignorance, misunderstanding and prejudice, negative attitudes can often keep society from appreciating and experiencing the full potential that persons with disabilities can achieve.
  • Psychological barriers which are mainly informed by fears for their personal safety.
  • Structural barriers such as lack of: accessibility to facilities and infrastructure; support services or technology; availability of information in accessible formats; and reasonable accommodation in schools and work places.

As a result of these challenges, children with disabilities are more likely not to complete their education than children without disabilities; persons with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, and therefore also likely to earn less – and notably this worsens with the severity of the impairment. Persons with disabilities often do not receive much needed health care, and which they are unlikely to afford.

Promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities

The Constitution places a positive duty on the State to respect, promote, protect and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights, including the rights of persons with disabilities. It does so through a legal framework that insists upon primary responsibilities within key government departments to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

With specific reference to disability, no person may unfairly discriminate against any person including:  • denying or removing from any person who has a disability, any supporting or enabling facility necessary for their functioning in society  • failing to eliminate obstacles that unfairly limit or restrict persons with disabilities from enjoying equal opportunities – or failing to take steps to reasonably accommodate the needs of such persons.

The South African Human Rights Council has provided some basic tips on disability etiquette, as follows:

  • Avoid asking personal questions about someone’s disability.
  • Be considerate of the extra time it might take for a person with a disability to do or say something.
  • Be polite and patient when offering assistance, and wait until your offer is accepted.
  • Listen or ask for specific instructions – and be prepared for your offer to be refused.
  • Relax, anyone can make mistakes. Offer an apology if you feel you have caused some embarrassment.
  • Keep a sense of humour – most people with disabilities do – and they are usually willing to communicate in good spirit.  

The story of Sunfield Home

Twenty years ago, 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. 

Find out more about us at: www.sunfieldhome.co.za