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The 3rd of December is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is also celebrated as National Disability Rights Awareness Day in South Africa. The term disability covers impairments that include physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental – or any combination of these. Disability may be the result of a birth defect or an injury or disease experienced during one’s life.

The purpose of this special day, the culmination of a month of awareness focus, is to give governments the platform and opportunity to:

  • Create a broader discussion on the protection of the rights of the disabled.
  • Highlight challenges that may hinder the building of inclusive caring societies where the contributions of persons with disabilities must be valued and ensured.
  • Foster consensus on priorities to be addressed in the next five years, in order to promote disability as a human rights issue.
  • Give government the opportunity to report back on measures taken to equalise opportunities for persons with disabilities
  • Celebrate the achievements and contributions of persons with disabilities who have contributed substantially to the development of their communities and nation-building.

Some background info:

  • The Disability Rights Charter of South Africa was founded in 1992 on the principles enshrined in the 1955 Freedom Charter, and continues to inform the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in South Africa.
  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol (OP) (A/RES/61/106) was adopted on 13 December 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and was opened for signature on 30 March 2007.  
  • South Africa became a signatory of both the CRPD and the OP on 30 March 2007, on the first day when the CRPD and OP was opened for signing, and ratified both the CRPD and OP without reservation/declaration on 30 November 2007.

Issues highlighted by the UN Committee for corrective action include:

  • Ensuring reasonable accommodation for the disabled across all sectors
  • Ensuring that persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, are seen as equal citizens before the law.
  • Providing continual monitoring of gender equality; especially focusing on gender-based violence and inter-sectionalities which may detract from the safety and protection of girls and women with disabilities.
  • Strengthening community-based support measures to enable persons with disabilities to choose where they live, and with whom they live.
  • Strengthening the representative voice of organisations of persons with disabilities through State intervention.
  • Ensuring access to justice, mental health, education, social protection and safety.
  • Generating reliable statistical and administrative data on disability.

Issues faced by people with disabilities

Over the years, people with intellectual disabilities have suffered extraordinary prejudice, misunderstanding and isolation. But today there have been many changes to develop a better experience and future for people with ID – creating inclusion, dignity, respect and quality of life.

Disability Awareness Month is fully focused on combatting misconceptions surrounding intellectual disability and to show that not only do people with intellectual disabilities have the capacity to lead fulfilling lives, but also the ability to make meaningful contributions as responsible and productive members of society.

The purpose is to blot out the differences between people living with intellectual disabilities and their non-disabled counterparts, showing that we are all human and deserving of dignity and opportunity. When placed in conducive situations, people with intellectual disabilities can not only survive, but thrive, to the benefit of not only themselves but also that of society.

Key rights the disabled should enjoy, and we should know

The Right to Education: This is an ongoing struggle and South Africa has not exactly covered itself in glory – however with the implementation of the guidelines for Resourcing an Inclusive Education System, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it can be hoped that things can and will be improved as the next decade unfolds.  

The right to employment: This is another area of ongoing work. People with ID are often excluded because of aspects such as stigma, low skill levels due to inadequate education, inaccessible and unsupportive work environments, ignorance in society and inadequate access to information. Despite these challenges, the reality is that persons with intellectual disabilities can flourish within society, successfully performing a wide range of jobs, and proving themselves dependable workers.

The right to live in one’s community: In the past, the easy solution to ID was to simply place these persons in an institution where they would become invisible to society at large.

But today we live in a country with a Constitution espousing dignity, equality and freedom, and this previous practice has become patently unacceptable. Institutions should only be seen as a back-up choice, not the only solution for people with ID. What is important is that such individuals should receive support living in their communities, either through professional intervention, social welfare, social grants, or support from peers and loved ones.

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 in 1991, 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