Independent Living Institute


Integrated National Disability Strategy

White Paper
Office of the President



A human rights and development approach to disability has significant implications for the way in which we provide education for the nation. Educationists tend to classify people with disabilities according to disability. Disabled learners are then either placed in special schools or classes, or totally excluded from any educational opportunity on the grounds that they are 'too severely disabled'.

The limited capacity of special schools, particularly in rural areas, has resulted in the majority of learners from these areas being excluded from education opportunities altogether, as the environment in regular schools does not facilitate integration.

It is estimated that almost 70% of children with disabilities of school-going age are presently out of school. This naturally results in illiteracy and low skills amongst adults with disabilities, contributing significantly to high levels of unemployment.

Disabled children and their parents have very little or no choice as to which option - mainstream or special school - they wish to access.

The first White Paper on Education and Training commits the Government of National Unity to a unified education and training system which is 'committed to equal access, non-discrimination and redress'. It also makes provision for a National Commission on Special Needs in Education and Training (NCSNET) and a National Task Team for Education Support Services (TTESS). (Footnote 34)

These bodies must make policy recommendations to government on the inclusion of learners with special needs in education and training within a single equitable education system. Their work will cover all levels of education. (Footnote 35)

Lifelong Learning

Education has traditionally concentrated on years spent at school and, to a lesser degree, on tertiary education. Links with the world of work and training have been weak. Changes in educational policy are of particular importance to the future economic empowerment of people with disabilities.

Early childhood development and learning provides children with disabilities with access to early intervention and socialisation opportunities from an early age.

Outcomes based education will equip people with disabilities with the skills necessary to access the job market.

People with disabilities seldom receive recognition for the significant experiences they gain overcoming daily barriers in their environment. In acknowledging a broader range qualifications and acquired knowledge, the National Qualifications Framework will give people with disabilities better access to formal education and the job market.

Special Needs in Education and Training

It is important to note that:

  1. Not all learners with disabilities have special needs in education and training, as they do not experience learning break-down.

  2. Special needs in education exist both in ordinary centres of learning (mainstream) and in specialised centres of learning.

  3. Special needs in education and training also exist outside the classroom.

  4. Various stakeholders(Footnote 36) play important roles in responding to special needs in education.

  5. Special needs in education include support in the form of: life skills and independence training; assistive devices and specialised equipment; and access to the curriculum.(Footnote 37)

NCSNET and the NCESS (formerly TTESS) will work in close collaboration in order to make recommendations on the transformation of the education system as a whole, namely:

  1. to facilitate equal access to education - including community initiatives - and equity in education provision at all levels;

  2. to develop a single education system that will cater for the needs of all learners within an inclusive environment with various placement options;

  3. to facilitate capacity building for all stakeholders (parents, teachers, students and planners);

  4. to facilitate earlier access to education for all learners, but in particular for learners with special education needs;

  5. to facilitate effective and relevant research.

All South Africans should have equal access to education opportunities, irrespective of the severity of their disability(ies). Every learner has unique interests, abilities and learning needs. Respect for diversity should thus be promoted. All South Africans should:

  1. have access to the widest possible educational and social opportunities;

  2. receive education and training in as normal an environment as possible (Footnote 38);

  3. be provided with the resources needed to realise their highest potential.
Equity for learners with disabilities implies the availability of additional support mechanisms (Footnote 39) within an inclusive learning environment.(Footnote 40)

TARGET GROUPS (Footnote 41)

Urgent attention should be given to access to education at all levels by black disabled persons. In particular:

Key action areas to achieve objectives include:
  1. The development of clear policy that includes all stakeholders and which is understood and accepted at school level and by the wider community.

  2. Curriculum development to ensure flexibility, addition and adaptation according to the needs of individual learners, regardless of the category to which they seem to belong.

  3. On-going pre-service and in-service teacher and support teacher training.

  4. Parent empowerment programmes to encourage parent involvement in assessment and decision- making concerning their children.

  5. Appropriate technology development in education and training.

  6. The development of effective inter-sectoral collaborative mechanisms at national, provincial and school level.

  7. The development of a long term vision for teachers fluent in Sign Language and Sign Language instruction in all centres of learning.

  8. Adequate and appropriate education support services to all learners.

Components to be included in the meeting of objectives include:

Early Childhood Development (ECD)

The majority of young children with disabilities within ECD centres, especially children with intellectual disabilities, is presently accommodated in informal community based day care centres run by parents of disabled children.

Early childhood development and stimulation within an inclusive environment is the cornerstone for the development and successful outcome of an integrated society.

All ECD provisioning should, therefore, be multi-sectoral, community based and integrated to enable all young children to benefit from learning in an environment that acknowledges and appreciates diversity.(Footnote 42)

General and Further Education

Free compulsory education should apply to all children of school-going age equally. Thus it should include children with disabilities, irrespective of the nature of their disabilities.(Footnote 43)

Where the general school system does not yet adequately meet their educational needs, students with severe disabilities should have access to special schools. Education in these schools should however, always be aimed at preparing students for education in the general education system as soon as advisable, and should build and maintain close links with local communities.

Special attention should be given to vocational training in all schools in order to equip learners with special needs.

Parents' rights and preferences must be taken into account in the placement of learners with special education needs.(Footnote 44)

Higher Education

Institutions of Higher Education are presently undergoing a period of transformation. The National Commission on Higher Education identifies three central features of the broad framework of transformation:

  1. increased participation in the system by a diverse range of constituencies;

  2. increased co-operation and more partnerships between higher education and other social actors and institutions;

  3. greater responsiveness to a wide range of social and economic needs.
The implications of the above as they relate to the inclusion of students with disabilities have not been clearly defined or researched. They will receive attention by NCSNET and NCESS (formerly TTESS).

Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET)

Access to ABET is the key to the economic liberation of adults with disabilities. Yet present ABET policy guidelines make virtually no provision for the special needs of adult learners with disabilities.(Footnote 45)

Education Support Services (ESS)

ESS should be seen as an integral part of special education needs with the purpose of providing a back-up or support service.

Every learner, irrespective of age or centre of learning, should have access to ESS.

ESS involves the partnership and co-ordination of special education needs in a continuum. It must involve professionals and other non-professionals in assisting learners to derive maximum benefit from the curriculum through differentiated (but not fragmented) education and training.(Footnote 46)



Unemployment remains a fundamental problem affecting the majority of people with disabilities and their families. A number of initiatives have been undertaken by the government since 1994 in an attempt to redress this dire situation in a more affirmative and comprehensive manner.

The new Labour Relations Act has introduced important changes in the area of employment practices. Some protection is provided for both employees and job-seekers against unfair discrimination on the basis of their disability, particularly in the areas of unfair dismissal and hiring practices.

The Code of Good Practice provides some guidance to employers on the importance of not equating disability with disabilities on the basis of an incorrect assessment of ill health if they have the necessary capacity to meet the inherent requirements of the job.

The weakness of the Labour Relations Act lies, however, in the fact that this provision is not enforceable, but rather provides employers and the courts with guidelines for appropriate practice.

The extreme levels of inequality and ongoing discrimination experienced by disabled people in the workplace suggest that the provisions of the LRA are not, on their own, sufficient to remove discriminatory practices, nor to support the creation of equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Experiences in other countries have shown that it is necessary to enact legislation expressly designed to remove barriers which lead to discrimination against disabled people in the workplace. (Footnote 47) Such legislation should also provide mechanisms to ensure that disabled people enjoy equal opportunities in the workplace. This should include, for example, affirmative action programmes and processes to support diversity.


The following policy objectives have been identified:

  1. The unemployment gap between non-disabled and disabled job-seekers must be narrowed.

  2. Conditions must be created to broaden the range of employment options for disabled people so as to provide them with real possibilities of occupational choice.

  3. The vocational integration of people with disabilities must be facilitated, whatever the origin, nature or degree of the disability(ies).

The following strategies must be adopted in order to meet policy objectives:

Occupational Choice

People with disabilities should be provided with a range of employment opportunities aimed at meeting differing needs and offering real possibilities for occupational choice.

Inter-sectoral Collaboration

The creation of employment opportunities for people with disabilities will only come about if a number of Government Departments, as well as key stakeholders in the NGO and private sector, work together. NEDLAC already represents an inclusive and inter-sectoral economic forum, and should become more actively involved in the facilitation of enabling policies and legislation. The Department of Labour could play a leading role by facilitating the participation of the Departments of Welfare, Education, Trade and Industry, Transport, Public Service and Administration and Health, as well as the involvement of organisations of disabled people and service-providing organisations involved in policy development and monitoring.

Specific attention needs to be given to inter-sectoral collaboration at provincial level, due to the fact that labour is a national competency and most of the other departments are provincial competencies.

Personnel Training

Specific attention needs to be given to personnel working in personnel/recruitment units of Departments or agencies to ensure that they understand the options available in the placement and promotion of disabled job-seekers and workers.


The following components should be included:

Employment Equity in the Open Labour Market

Research undertaken in 1990 indicated that only 0,26% of disabled people were employed in the open labour market.

Standards that must be observed in the realisation of the creation of equity in employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities include:

  1. The enactment of legislation that promotes a policy of equitable employment levels for disabled workers in both the public and private sectors. Components that could be included in an employment equity policy are:
    • methods to determine the potential candidate pool of disabled workers;

    • targeting a percentage of positions at entry and higher levels for disabled workers;

    • targets for the employment of disabled workers in the private sector;

    • financial or tax incentives to organisations that attain targeted employment levels of disabled workers;

    • incentives to organisations and the private sector to train and employ persons with multiple or severe disabilities;

    • conditions whereby neither the employer nor the disabled worker suffers undue financial disadvantage from an employment contract.
  2. The promotion of policies that encourage the employment of disabled women, especially women who are heads of families.

  3. The promotion and implementation of policies and programmes for disabled people which ensure equity in terms of employment benefits, status and conditions. Positive measures could include:
    • equitable provision of employment benefits; (Footnote 48)

    • equitable application of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act;

    • the application of these standard working conditions to sheltered employment;

    • the promotion of measures to protect disabled workers against discriminatory practices during retrenchment.

    • The promotion of reasonable and equitable work environments for disabled workers.
    Measures could include:
    • incentives to encourage the accommodation of work stations to facilitate the employment of disabled people - through the provision of assistive devices, personal assistance, specialised and alternative technology, and equipment and adjustments to the work environment;

    • the use of vocational assessment techniques to facilitate the matching of disabled job- seekers with job-related requirements;

    • the listing of essential job requirements as a basis for determining the suitability of disabled job-seekers;

    • the use of incentives to encourage the provision of work instruments, machine adaptations, documentation and tools in a format that is usable by and equitably accommodates the needs of disabled workers;

    • the promotion of alternative work arrangements and hours; (Footnote 49)

    • the evaluation of the performance and productivity of disabled-employees on an equitably comparative basis with non-disabled employees.
Small, Medium and Micro-Enterprises (SMMEs)

The creation of work opportunities for people with disabilities through the development and maintenance of small, medium and micro-enterprises should form a key component in a comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities.

Despite the mushrooming of numerous self-help projects and business development initiatives by disabled people and their organisations, this sector has had virtually no access to financial assistance or technical support from the state, the NGO community or the private SMME sector.

The lack of trainers skilled in training people with specific needs, (Footnote 50) together with physically inaccessible training facilities and public transport, have led to further exclusion of people with disabilities from training opportunities.

The SMME White Paper identifies disabled entrepreneurs as a target group for positive action. The Ntsika Enterprise Promotion Agency (NEPA) has, in response, appointed a disabled person to assist with the development of targeted assistance measures and the removal of barriers within the SMME sector for disabled entrepreneurs.

Disabled people's organisations that engage in income-generating activities provide invaluable experience, empowerment opportunities and skills training for disabled individuals interested in entering the SMME sector. They should be supported.

Vocational education and training (VET), adult basic education and training (ABET), and vocational rehabilitation are key elements in the successful engagement of people with disabilities in the SMME sector.

Sheltered Employment

Protective/sheltered employment includes: sheltered/protective workshops, and protected work environments within ordinary places of work.

Employment opportunities within a sheltered environment should be available to people who, because of their disability, are unable to obtain or keep an ordinary job, whether supported or not.

A distinction should be drawn between vocational training centres and sheltered employment. Sheltered employment should always aim to prepare workers, as far as possible, for work in the open labour market.

Subsidies should be linked to mechanisms that will ensure:

  1. appropriate placement;

  2. the legal status of workers, types of work, working hours and wages;

  3. the availability of medical, social and psychological assistance to workers;

  4. special training and checks on workers' progress with a view to their possible settlement in an ordinary working environment.
Whatever the nature of the protected/sheltered workshop, all reasonable measures must be taken to ensure that:
  1. workers are involved in the management and administration of the workshop;

  2. working conditions are fair and equitable and comply with the provisions of the LRA and Basic Conditions of Employment Act;

  3. workers with disabilities receive satisfactory remuneration in relation to the type of work performed and that this remuneration compares well with wages in open industry;

  4. workers have adequate contractual status which takes into account the need for personal assistance and facilitates a normal employer/employee relationship as far as possible;

  5. workshops are linked as far as possible to mainstream workplaces and are designed in such a way as to facilitate the passage from supported to ordinary work.
Existing mainstream vocational training centres should be made accessible to accommodate the specific physical, communication and learning needs of people with disabilities. In this way people with disabilities can be prepared for and find work opportunities in the open labour market. Support (both financial and training) should be given to existing self-help groups which presently provide training of this nature. Specific attention needs to be given to people living in rural areas.

Human Resource Development


A basic prerequisite for development is the capacity of society to use its own resources to sustain itself. Yet the majority of people with disabilities find themselves in a state of underdevelopment due to past and present discrimination in accessing opportunities.

Human resource development (HRD) is one of the key elements that can be used to break the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment. The development of human resources is central to the success of the employment policy recommendations.


Developing Capacity

The development of the capacity of people with disabilities to participate more effectively in:

Opportunities to Qualify

The provision of opportunities for people with disabilities to obtain the highest possible educational and vocational qualifications.


Vocational Rehabilitation

Vocational rehabilitation is an essential component in a national HRD strategy. Vocational rehabilitation includes vocational guidance, vocational training and selective placement. Its focus should be the transformation of mainstream vocational training services to provide more accessible and inclusive training for people with disabilities. This should include the making available of the necessary support services.

National Qualifications Framework (NQF)

The NQF is a mechanism aimed at introducing:

  1. A fair assessment system which measures achievements against clearly stated standards.

  2. A dynamic and flexible system able to adapt quickly to new developments in the labour market, workplace and in education and training.

  3. Ways to encourage more people to participate in further education and training.

  4. Learning which is relevant and responsive to the needs of the individual, the economy and society.

  5. Ways to promote access to learning.

  6. A variety of routes to qualifications.

  7. National quality assurance.

National Training Initiative (NTI)

The National Training Initiative entails:

  1. The application of the NQF to all HRD programmes.

  2. The creation of governance structures to facilitate the attainment of the objectives of the NTI through the restructured National Training Board (NTB).

Strategies that promote equitable vocational, pre-employment and on-the job training for people with disabilities in all sectors of the economy could include:

Skills Development.

The focus on skills development of people with disabilities should be the deepening of their specialised capabilities so that they are able to access incomes through formal sector jobs, through SMMEs or community projects. The aim should be to promote continuous learning and adaptation to the constantly changing environment. Adult Basic Education programmes should be linked with skills development.

People with disabilities need to be targeted for 'learnerships'. (Footnote 51) This may require adjustments to the built environment and the acquisition of specialised equipment and technology for training and assessment. Rehabilitation workers can play an important role in facilitating the accommodation of disabled people in 'learnerships' within the open labour market.

Inclusive Training ('Mainstreaming')

Pre-employment training strategies and programmes should promote efforts to make mainstream vocational training, institutions and programmes accessible to people with disabilities wherever possible. This should be achieved through the provision of the necessary support services.

The widespread practice of referring people with disabilities in search of training opportunities to welfare agencies and charitable organisations for what is often substandard training (Footnote 52) should be discouraged. Personnel at these agencies should, rather, be contracted to serve as advisers in ordinary vocational training centres.

'Reversed' integration should also be encouraged: that is, non-disabled people in search of pre- employment training should be accommodated within vocational rehabilitation centres.

Training Standards

It is acknowledged that, in order to accommodate the specific training needs of disabled trainees, standards of training modules, course contents, trade tests and certification might differ slightly from standards applied in the general vocational training system.

These deviations should, however, be integrated into the NQF to ensure accessibility, compatibility and lifelong learning and training. acknowledged

Positive Action
Disabled employees should be given the right to take part in upgrading courses, training programmes on new technologies, and training on paid educational leave on an equitable basis.(Footnote 53)

Inter-Sectoral Collaboration

It is essential that an integrated system of Adult Basic Education and Training be developed. In other words, ABET should form an integral component of the training modules available at vocational training centres.

People with disabilities applying for or receiving income maintenance or social security should be provided with market related pre-employment training opportunities as a rule rather than an exception. They should not, however, be penalised whilst in training by losing their social security benefits.


ILO Conventions

A number of ILO Conventions and their accompanying recommendations provide clear guidelines and options for the training of people with disabilities. Relevant ILO Conventions include:

The ratification and subsequent integration of these conventions into employment and HRD legislation will facilitate definite and measurable progress in the training, placement and employment of people with disabilities.

Personnel Training

Pre- and in-service programmes need to be developed for the orientation and training of vocational instructors in disability-related matters. This will include the development of training modules, materials and guidelines with the aim of facilitating the equal status of disabled people in mainstream training.

Disabled People's Organisations

Disabled people's organisations play a vital role in the human resource development of people with disabilities. This is especially so amongst people with limited access to formal education and living in rural or disadvantaged areas.

DPOs have proven effective in getting people out of their homes and back rooms and into social groups that often embark on informal income generation activities. This enables people to develop a sense of self-worth and equips them with a wide range of skills and experiences.(Footnote 54)

It is important that this development process be strengthened and enhanced through:

National Disability Strategy Contents