On Friday December 3, International Day for Persons with Disabilities, patients and staff walked through the grounds of Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital to spread awareness about the objectives of commemorating the day, which include promoting equality, removing existing and potential barriers, providing continued support and acknowledging diversity within disability.
This year the United Nations theme for the day is leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-Covid-19 world.
Monique Johnstone, sokesperson for the provincial Department of Health, said to achieve inclusivity in the work environment, more needs to be done besides the provision of reasonable accommodation, assistive services and devices.
“Inclusivity starts with examining the psychoanalytical lenses through which we view disability as this ultimately impacts on our behaviour, relationships and our responsiveness when dealing with matters about disability, be it employment or patient facing,” she said.
When a person with a disability encounters accessibility issues, often it goes beyond the environmental and informational accessibility issues as it triangulates back to the attitudes and behaviour people with disabilities experience when they are in a working environment or attending a health facility, she said.
“The issue of disability is no longer just about employment only; it is an organisational responsibility to exercise human rights,” said Ms Johnstone.
Carmenita Dampies, occupational therapy technician at the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre for People with Physical Disabilities who was at the event, said: “Disability does not only mean someone with a physical disability, but also some of us who suffer from mental disabilities.
“The theme until very recently remained to be ‘not all disabilities are visible’. Many years ago, persons with disabilities were not seen as equal, treated good or respected and this is when certain people began fighting for persons with disabilities to have lawful rights.”
The Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre for People with Physical Disabilities (WCRC), situated on the Lentegeur Pychiatric Hospital premises, proves not only that South Africa has come far, but how much was won by those with disabilities, Ms Dampies said.
This is to recognise that disability is not our major barrier to living fulfilling lives, that we can identify needs, make decisions and evaluate services, to name a few, she said.
The WCRC honoured their in-house patients with a programme centred on disability rights in commemoration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities each year, she said.
Hans Human, chief executive officer of the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre, said they are working hard to make a difference and change lives.
“People with disabilities may worry about the future during Covid-19. Our staff has worked hard and were affected too. We understand and hope we can help you to work with us. Thank you to all who have worked hard. Remember you are different but not less, you are created by God,” said Mr Human.
Patient Natasha Seale, 52, from Eastridge said she couldn’t walk when she arrived at the WCRC. Thirteen years ago she had radiation in her back, which meant she had cancer.
“I am cancer free. I am so proud that I could overcome this. It wasn’t easy but I did it,” she said.
People with disabilities are discriminated against, she said. “I don’t know how people will receive me but I want people to treat me the same as they would any other person. The only difference is, I am in a wheelchair. I’m still me,” said Ms Seale.
She was also excited to be leaving the facility on Friday December 3 as she was discharged from her stay at the WCRC.
This is the first time she is in a wheelchair. She will continue to go for therapy to practise her walking until she is mobile again. She is not bound to the wheelchair, she said.
“My family will help care for me when I get home. I will certainly be more conscious about disabilities,” said Ms Seale.
Patient Antoinette Sampson, 54, from Klein Dassenberg on the West Coast, said she spent four weeks at the WCRC.
She had Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare autoimmune disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages the nerves.
She will return home in January next year, she said.
“The therapists have been helping me so much. I am getting used to this disability, I wasn’t disabled before. It takes up to a year to recover from this disability,” she said.
She has seen a change in her progress, said Ms Sampson.
“When going into the world, I’m now more aware of disabled people and what they have to go through,” said Ms Sampson.
The centre prepares you to go into the outside world and prepares you for your home environment. They prepare your family on how to assist you at home. She was looking forward to going home.
“When I go home, I want to be independent and do many things. This has opened my eyes to a lot of things,” she said. She is working towards being mobile again.
The drill squad of Newfields Primary School in Newfields near Hanover Park did a special exhibition at the event.
“It is so important that our pupils be a part of a day like this and teach them too to give back,” said coach and teacher, Gino Thaysen.
Ashleigh Webb, social worker for the WCRC said: “Thank you so much to our team; this wouldn’t have been possible without our team. Thank you to our guests of honour – you are strong and courageous,” she said.
Ms Webb said her committee of social work colleagues, Mary-Anne Jonkerman and Merle Cloete, co-ordinated the event on Friday December 3, and they worked with other staff members and various role-players to ensure a successfull awareness-raising event.