Helping hand for people with intellectual disablities

Melissa Heuer, occupational therapist at Alexandra Hospital, right, teaches an intellectually disabled woman how to dress and prepare for work. This and many other self-care skills activities form part of the facilitys work participation programme, which prepares patients for the work environment.

With the right training and support, people with intellectual disabilities can be valued colleagues in the workplace, says a doctor helping them reach their full potential.

Dr Nashreen Morris is the manager of the Clinical Functional Business Unit at Alexandra Hospital.

He said employment for those with intellectual disabilities is about a lot more than money.

“Equal employment opportunities enable people with intellectual disabilities to take part 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,” Dr Morris said.

March is Intellectual Disability Awareness Month, but while it helps to highlight the challenges the intellectually disabled face, their struggle to prove themselves in the workplace is a fight many of them face more than just 30 days of the year.

Alexandra Hospital provides specialist mental health services for those with an intellectual disability, mental illness or behaviour challenges.

A similar service is also available at Lentegeur Hospital. Both provide a platform for research and training of health workers.

The hospital also helps to find suitable jobs for its outpatients, placing seven of them in the open labour market and 30 in protective employment in the past five years.

Three years ago, Pinelands packaging factory MerryPak hired Carrin Lewis, the firm’s first female employee with an intellectual disability.

“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 said.

Alexandra Hospital has partnered with MerryPak since 2014, and, to date, the company has 36 employees with intellectual disabilities, six of whom are from the hospital.

Julie Tobiansky, owner of MerryPak, said: “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.”

Donnia Krotz, head of the Alexandra Hospital’s occupational therapy department, said occupational therapists networked with local businesses to find jobs for outpatients. They also educate the employer about the employee’s disability and give ongoing support.

“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,” Ms Krotz said.