Bringing people that are intellectually disabled into society in a way that enables them to function as fully as possible, and contribute to a workday life that makes them feel included and valued, is fundamentally vital to their mental health and happiness.

Are there challenges to this conception – yes. There are various barriers that affect people with disabilities on a daily basis. We can all note and understand the physical barriers that people with physical disability have to cope with – but the intellectually disabled present a more complex situation. People with ID can and do live full lives within their communities – but their biggest barrier remains attitudinal. Unless the person is capable of good communication, other people may not understand the capabilities and feelings and potential of the person with ID.

Barriers that still exist

People are often under misconceptions that people with ID:

  • live segregated lives in institutions and group homes
  • work in segregated workshops
  • are too ill or fragile to work and engage in their communities
  • will not be able to understand even simple commands
  • cannot be trusted with responsibility
  • are unlikely to become valued consumers
  • cannot be as ambitious as normal people.

The disability community is still discriminated against in the working world at from being refused a job or denied a final interview. But employers need to learn how they can see an ID person as an asset and not a liability. Inclusion of people with ID in organisational programmes and activities can help change these misconceptions and demonstrate that people with ID can be productive and valuable members of a staff team.

In fact, inclusion of people with ID can be across the board in so many spheres, from fashion modelling to photography, from admin processes to chefs assistant, from ticket processing to messenger, courier and record-keeping. These kinds of opportunities need to become the norm, and not be seen as simply wishful thinking for the future.  

Ways to counteract continued prejudice

  • An important strategy to counter continued prejudice, is the incorporation of Disability Studies at the earliest point of public education: in the school curriculum. Disability history needs to be integrated within school systems for the community and their rights, to be fully acknowledged. We need to celebrate our peers for their differences. If this is taught at a young age, less discrimination and more social inclusion will occur.
  • The media needs to do a better job at accepting disability as a human condition instead of a flaw and imperfection.
  • Athletes with disabilities should be scouted and receive scholarships based on their athletic abilities by their chosen school. Disability is often seen more as an inspiration to others, rather than acknowledging the person as a hardworking teammate capable of contributing points to the game.
  • Air travel should be made more universally assessible for persons who are intellectually disabled. Many people can become active business people or wish to travel to meet with family. However, they may be met with impatience. The level of disrespect and invisibility a traveller with a physical or intellectual disability endures can be astounding and frustrating. Training Special Services personnel would go a long way in promoting a more positive experience though the “just ask, just listen” approach.
  • Police need to be trained to handle people with intellectual disabilities with greater respect and consideration, whether they have committed a crime or are reporting a crime.
  • It’s important to recognise that people with intellectual disabilities are as human as the next person – with virtues and faults, and layers of complexity just like anyone else. Sometimes people can forget that a person with a disability is first and foremost a human being with desires, talents, skills, heartache and loss, just like everyone else. At the basis of every person lie the similarities we all share for being human, and that includes people with disabilities.
  • Empowerment. Improving perspective should include ingraining the potential of empowerment in every person with ID. They need to realise that their voice can make a change for generations to come. ID persons need to become the voices that are not afraid to question and challenge the status quo. If you never raise your voice, then nothing will occur and no change will happen. Intellectually disabled persons need to envision a more fully inclusive society, and confidently celebrate their talents and contributions – and their differences. We need to teach the world the value of each person – because everyone in their own way, can make a difference.

We should never give up on the integration of ID individuals. Insistence on integration should occur across an individual’s lifespan, from infancy through childhood and adolescence, until old age. Community roles and activities will vary depending on the stage of an individual’s life and his or her interests: integrating a child or youth into the community may focus on home, school, and recreational activities; whereas integrating an adult into the community may focus on home management, employment, leisure, religious, or social activities.

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

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