The era of Institutionalisation started around 1912, when several “lunatic asylums” were built in South Africa. Previously there were no provisions made for individuals living with disabilities. These “asylums” ensured that the disabled were largely isolated from the community. The “patients” did not have any control of their own lives. They were treated as if they were second class citizens. This grim picture only started to gradually change, not just in our country but in many others, over the past thirty years.
At present we are entering an exciting new era called Inclusion. The focus of inclusion is on empowering individuals living with disabilities, to have their lives in their own hands (with the needed support, of course) and be included within their community in every aspect. We are now starting to accept people’s differences within our communities. The focus is shifting to what these “disabled” individuals are capable of. Society needs to facilitate change, empowering these individuals to participate actively in their environments. In other words creating opportunities for inclusion.
South Africa, being a developing country, is lagging behind in this process, due to its social, monetary and educational constraints. As we are faced with unique challenges in the South African context, we need to work harder to create equal opportunities for individuals with developmental, physical and/or learning disabilities. In other more developed countries, the governments have enough funding to look after their vulnerable communities. Our government’s provision for inclusion is not sufficient to ensure that individuals with disabilities become contributing members of society. Individuals, Corporate entities and Society at large is the only hope these individuals have of one day being part and parcel of their communities.