National Down Syndrome Day is on 20 October: Employing persons with intellectual disabilities

About Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder arising at the time of conception. This is caused by an excess in genetic material when an individual has an extra copy of chromosome 21, commonly refered to as Trisomy 21, which causes delays in physical and intellectual development. The exact cause of Down syndrome is currently unknown. It is not related to race, age, religion and socio-economic status and is one of the most frequently occurring chromosomal disorders.

Down syndrome is characterised by a variety of unique features and a wide range of abilities in physical and cognitive areas of development. Intellectual ability cannot be assessed by the number of clinical signs and symptoms present.

The majority of persons with Down syndrome fall in the mild to moderate range of intellectual disability. The incidence of Down syndrome is estimated to be one in every 1 000 live births in developed countries and one in every 650 live births in developing countries. In South Africa it is roughly one in every 500.

Down Syndrome South Africa (DSSA)

Down Syndrome South Africa (DSSA) is non-profit parent organisation established in 1986 to promote and protect the Constitutional rights of persons with Down syndrome and their families. We have 12 regional associations, support and outreach groups in South Africa that deliver support and services to families. DSSA main focus is on

  • Establishing support groups in areas where there is no support or services
  • Capacity building of our members in all nine provinces
  • Rights Based Advocacy on policy at national and international platforms
  • Awareness on Down syndrome thereby reducing the stigma, myths and discrimination that surrounds the condition

To mark National Down Syndrome Day on 20 October, Disability Connect chatted to Ancella Ramjas, National Executive Director at Down Syndrome South Africa, about the workplace challenges and opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities in South Africa.

  • What advice can you give to companies in terms of employing persons with Down syndrome?

Persons with Down syndrome can hold down a job provided that they are given adequate time and support on the job. Persons with Down syndrome make very loyal workers, do not take time off and take pride in the job that they are given. They should be given the opportunity to be employed in the open labour market. There are some wonderful examples worldwide, as well as in South Africa, such as Brownies and Downies, a coffee-shop and training centre for persons with intellectual disabilities.

  • Do you think companies in SA are open to employing persons with intellectual disabilities?

No, many are uncomfortable employing persons with an intellectual disability. Many fear that they do not have the skills needed, will not be able to cope with the job, that they will not be reliable and productive and will cost the company more.

  • What are some of the ways that companies can make the integration into the workplace easier for persons with Down syndrome?

Firstly, by being open minded in employing persons with Down syndrome, and by contacting the organisation that works with persons with Down syndrome to provide support and information on what works best. By ensuring that a job coach is enlisted, this can help to support the person with Down syndrome as well as the other staff working with the person with Down syndrome at the workplace.

  • What are some of the job opportunities that people with down syndrome can excel at?

Persons with Down syndrome, like abled bodied people, have their own personal job interests. Industries that are likely to secure employment for persons with Down syndrome include the retail industry, hospitality, Education (schools), Bakeries, Beauty salons and doggy parlours.

  • Are there policies in place in SA to assist persons with down syndrome and other developmental disabilities in terms of employment?

South Africa has the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that speaks on the rights of employing persons with disabilities. Government departments have an inhouse policy of employing 2% of persons with disabilities but this has only translated to persons with physical disabilities.

  • How important is Disability Awareness and Sensitivity Training in companies?

Sensitizing companies on the disability and how to effectively include and support them in the working environment is extremely important. In most cases, where persons with intellectual disabilities have lost their job, it is because companies did not invest in sensitising their staff and making their environment accessible to fully support the person with an intellectual disability.

DSSA is currently undertaking research on access to employment for persons with intellectual disabilities in South Africa. The survey is aimed at understanding parents’ attitudes to their children’s employment and on how potential employers feel about hiring persons with intellectual disabilities.

Please participate in the survey by clicking on this link

Parents: https://forms.gle/kQotZo7sLBs5s2L6A

Employers: https://forms.gle/eVgsaAMX8juP7pdu7