28 February 2006

Intellectual disability month

The intellectually disabled are still vulnerable to discrimination in and abuse. Learn more during Intellectual Disability Awareness month.

March is Intellectual Disability Awareness month. The South African Federation for Mental Health, of which Cape Mental Health is an affiliate, will embark on an awareness campaign highlighting the Human Rights of people with Intellectual Disability. Intellectual Disability is caused by brain damage or poor brain development, which causes people to learn and to develop slower than others.

Approximately two percent of the population are intellectually disabled. Intellectual disability may occur at birth or later in life through illness or injury. It is estimated that up to forty percent (40%) of cases of intellectual disability are preventable. Unfortunately intellectual disability cannot be cured, as brain damage is permanent.

In South Africa great strides have been made in policy and legislation and is based on the principle of inclusion of people with disabilities. The following are some of the laws and policies that impact on the lives of people with disabilities:

  • The South African Constitution & Bill of Rights (May 1996)
  • Integrated National Disability Strategy (1997)
  • The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Discrimination (Act 4 of 2000)
  • White Paper on Special Needs Education (July 2001)
  • The Employment Equity Act (Act No 55 of 1998)

Sadly, despite the promulgation of these laws and the adoption of policies, people with intellectual disabilities are still being discriminated against.

Where discrimination still exists
Children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities do not have the same access to education, training and stimulation as children without disabilities. As is the case with many of the country's social problems, non-governmental organisations (NGO's) have responded to the plight of children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities by providing daycare centres. NGO's are lobbying government to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities are secured, with no success to date.

Furthermore, inadequate resources and a lack of protocols by the Deparment of Education make the early detection of learners with learning disabilities impossible. The result is that learners in the 14 to 18 year age group are left without the support and opportunities that the Bill of Rights entitles them to.

The Employment Equity Act of 1998 promotes affirmative action of people with disabilities in the workplace. In support of this, government is demanding that 4% of the workforce should be people with disabilities. To date, less than 2% of the South African workforce are people with disabilities.

Sexual assault
Women and children who are victims of sexual assault experience extreme difficulty in accessing the justice system as they are often not regarded as credible witnesses.

Plea by Cape Mental Health
For most of us, living a 'normal' life is something we take for granted. We grow up, go to school, graduate and start a career and hardly ever give a second thought to those who are unable to do just that. Cape Mental Health calls on you to make a difference this month by celebrating those living with Intellectual Disability. Cape Mental Health Society is the oldest Mental Health Society in South Africa and provides a host of services for people with intellectual disabilities. Contact: (021) 447 9040.

- Issued by Cape Mental Health Society


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