Employment Accessibility for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities a Necessity | Western Cape Government


Employment Accessibility for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities a Necessity

3 March 2017

Although regulation promotes equal employment opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities, these opportunities remain limited. 

This is according to Dr Nashreen Morris, Clinical Functional Business Unit Manager at Alexandra Hospital, who says that Intellectual Disability Awareness Month, acknowledged annually during March, focuses on promoting the right of employment for people with intellectual disabilities.

Morris highlights that with the correct training, needed support and an appropriate occupation people with intellectual disabilities can make valued contributions in the workplace and to our country’s economy.

“Employment for people with intellectual disabilities is about something far more important than money. Equal employment opportunities enable people with intellectual disabilities to participate socially in the workplace, improves their independence and self-worth, stimulates their mental and physical capabilities and provides them with an opportunity to use their skills and talents,” says Morris.   

Based in Maitland, Alexandra Hospital renders specialist mental health services for persons with an intellectual disability and mental illness or behaviour challenges.  A similar service is also available at Lentegeur Hospital. Each of these facilities also provides a platform for the training of health workers and conducting of research.

With 141 admissions and 296 patients being attended to in the facility’s Outpatients Department during the 2015/2016 financial year, Alexandra Hospital has established work participation initiatives to source employment opportunities for the facility’s outpatients, either in a business environment or in a protected environment. 

Forming part of the facility’s Occupational Therapy initiatives, work participation activities are managed and facilitated by the facility’s Occupational Therapists (OT) via the Day Programme.

According to Donnia Krotz, Head of the Occupational Therapy Department at Alexandra Hospital, OTs often network with businesses or companies in the local business districts to locate employment opportunities for the facility’s outpatients.

“Once an opportunity is identified and a partnership is established, the OTs will focus on educating the employer regarding intellectual disability and adaption in the work place. Our other tasks include assessing the client and job matching, training and coaching the client on site and providing ongoing support to the client, their immediate supervisor and the employer,” explains Krotz.

Krotz highlights that over the past five years the OT division has successfully placed 7 clients in the open labour market and 30 in protective employment in the community. Many of who still retain their employment.

She mentions that including people with intellectual disabilities in the workplace is not a situation of one-sided benefits.

Echoing these sentiments is Julie Tobiansky, Owner of MerryPak, who for the past 8 years has employed people with intellectual disabilities. “We started with one young lady and it increased from there. Our vision is an inclusive workplace where people with different abilities and from different backgrounds can work together harmoniously. We also have students from 6 special schools who do work experience in our factory. Alexandra Hospital partnered with our company in 2014,”

To date the company has 36 employees with intellectual disabilities, 6 of who are from Alexandra Hospital. 

“The experience has been life changing for both ourselves and our staff. We learned to see the people and not the condition. We had no idea that the decision for an inclusive workplace would have such an uplifting impact on everyone who works or comes into contact with our special needs staff. Their enthusiasm for coming to work and getting the job done is infectious!” says Tobiansky.

A female patient, who has been working at MerryPak for the past 3 years, reflects on what this opportunity means to her. “I enjoy going to work and interacting with my colleagues. They make me feel part of a family. I pack crafts, label and barcode products – I am grateful for this opportunity,” she says. 

Krotz says that although people with intellectual disabilities would like to take part in a range of traditional activities, like any non-disabled person or people with other types of disability, they do face difficulties in being able to do so.

“Persons with intellectual disabilities often face difficulties in areas such as communication, social and academic skills and aren’t sometimes able to live independently. However our team realises that there is no one size fits all approach when seeking employment opportunities for our clients. We create a personal and individualised method that meets the individual support needs of that person and company,” she says. 

Krotz highlights that Individuals with intellectual disability have the right to employment, to earn comparable wages, work side-by-side with co-workers with or without disabilities, and experience all of the same benefits as other employees.  

“Work participation, whether in a business environment or in a protected environment, is viewed as a right and not a privilege. It should be available to all, with or without disability,” concludes Krotz.

Businesses who are interested in partnering with Alexandra Hospital’s work participation programme for individuals with intellectual disabilities are welcome to get in touch with Donnia Krotz on (021) 503 5000.

Media Enquiries: 

Bianca Carls 
Communications Officer
CD: General Specialist and Emergency Services Directorate
Western Cape Government: Department of Health
Landline:     021 918 1671
Mobile:        083 644 3383
Email:          bianca.carls@westerncape.gov.za