A+ A-

Giving a voice to persons with disabilities


Researchers at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) are working to stop the abuse of the human rights of persons with disabilities. The researchers want to help victims with Complex Communication Needs (CCN) access justice and give them the ability to communicate through various means.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) reaffirms the basic human rights and dignity of persons with disabilities and advocates for the full participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life. However, persons with disabilities face numerous difficulties and according to a US study are four to ten times more likely to be victims of crime. The issue is further exacerbated in persons with Complex Communication Needs (CCN), because they do not have the ability to easily communicate that they were a victim of crime, exploitation or sexual abuse.

More than 70% of women with disabilities are estimated to be prone to violent assault or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Furthermore, the abuse faced by persons with disabilities compared to persons without disabilities was found to be more severe, more violent, more prolonged, and more frequent. To add to this, due to the CCN of some persons with disabilities, crimes are not reported or prosecuted.

Researchers at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) have made a concerted effort to put a stop to the abuse of the human rights of persons with disabilities.

In order to do so, their research focussed on several different aspects relating to accessing justice for persons with CCN and how to give these individuals the ability to communicate about victimization through various means.

Studies in South Africa confirm the CRPD’s Article 6 which notes that women and girls with disabilities face multiple levels of discrimination. Sometimes, women with disabilities become victims of abuse because they may show inappropriate sexual behaviour in public, or they may be overly friendly with strangers, which can be incorrectly interpreted by strangers, who then take advantage of them. Additionally, perpetrators may incorrectly see them as naive without understanding of their bodies. A South African study found that perpetrators of sexual abuse against women with disabilities stated that the victims should consider their unwanted advances and abuse a “blessing”.

These myths, misconceptions and distorted attitudes about sexuality amongst persons with disabilities was one of the first problems that researchers at AAC, led by Prof Juan Bornman, sought to overcome. “A silent victim is the perfect victim,” says Prof Bornman on the link between criminal abuse and persons with CCN.

To combat this, Prof Bornman and her team embarked on a multi-method study which began by teaching women with intellectual disabilities to develop their understanding around the concepts that determine whether the behaviour they encounter in their lives is appropriate or abuse. Liezel Rathbone (PhD alumna of the Centre for AAC) developed a series of social stories to demystify conventional social behaviour and to modify or decrease inappropriate behaviour on the part of the women. In order to focus this around the problems of sexual abuse and rape, the stories focused on aligning concepts of sexuality, dating, romantic and other relationships, the contexts around different relationships and clarifying behavioural codes within these relationships. Imparting knowledge around the concepts of consent and socially acceptable and appropriate behaviour was a key focus area.

Prof Bornman explains that, “Women with intellectual disabilities were part of the discussion and development of the stories in order to empower women through knowledge. Caregivers were part of the process and assessed the appropriateness of the stories. We found that social stories provided an effective method of transferring knowledge of rights and empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to successfully understand these concepts. This method empowered women with disabilities to be able to take control and speak out against violence and abuse.

Social stories gave these women an opportunity to learn about socially desirable responses to relationships and situations to minimise their risk of abuse because they could understand the difference between different types of relationships and were equipped with the agency and ability to express that they had been or were being abused”.

The research conducted by the Centre for Alternative and Augmentative Communication is making an impact by finding innovative methods for upholding the rights of persons with disabilities, especially those with CCN. Their solutions ensure that the dignity and rights of persons with disabilities are maintained and promoted within the wider context of human rights education and social justice.

Privacy Policy

The University is firmly committed to protecting the privacy of users of the website. No personal information about users of this website will be disclosed to a third party without the prior consent thereto by the user. (Personal information shall at all times be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (Act 4 of 2013).)

The University reserves the right to automatically collect information on users' usage of the website (for example, via cookies) in order to improve users' browsing and interaction with the University and for non-personal statistical purposes.

Changes to this privacy policy

The University reserves the right to change, amend, or update this privacy policy periodically.

Modifications to the website

The University reserves the right to modify, change, amend or discontinue the website (or any part thereof) temporarily or permanently, without prior notice.

Links

The University may provide links to other websites or resources. This does not imply the University's endorsement of such sites. The University does not have any control over these websites and will, therefore, not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising from the utilisation of these websites by users.

The University does not prohibit third-party sites to link to publicly visible content on this website. However, it is expressly prohibited for any third party to frame any page on this website in any way whatsoever without the prior written approval of the University.

University of Pretoria proprietary rights

The copyright and other intellectual property rights (which include the University’s brand and logo), which are owned by or licensed to the University, existing in and attaching to this website, are the property of the University. These include but are not limited to text, content, design, layout, graphics, organisation, digital conversion and other information related to the website.

Users are granted a non-exclusive, non-transferable, revocable licence to:

  • access and use this website strictly in accordance with these terms;
  • use this website solely for personal, non-commercial purposes; and
  • download or print out or distribute content from the website, or any part thereof, solely for personal, non-commercial purposes, provided that all copyright and other intellectual property notices therein are unchanged.

Any reproduction of the content of this website, or a portion thereof, must include the following copyright notice: ©University of Pretoria. Users who wish to use the content from this website for commercial purposes may only do so with prior written permission from the University.

Disclaimer

This website is for information purposes only. No representations or warranties are given by the University of Pretoria (hereafter referred to as the University) regarding the accuracy of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website. Any reliance by the user on any information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website, is at the user’s own risk and the University shall not be liable in any way whatsoever in respect of the user or any other person, directly or indirectly, arising from the utilisation of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website.

The user hereby agrees that in the event of any dispute arising from the utilisation of this website in any manner, form or substance whatsoever, the relevant South African law will apply and the appropriate courts of South Africa will have jurisdiction.

Terms & Conditions

By accessing this website, the user hereby agrees to the following:

The use of this website is at the user’s sole risk. This website is provided on an "as is" and "as available" basis. The University gives no warranty that (i) the information posted on this website will meet the user’s requirements; (ii) the information posted on this website will be uninterrupted, timely, secure, virus free or error free; and (iii) the information posted on this website will be accurate or reliable.

Any material downloaded from or otherwise obtained through this website is utilised at the user’s own risk, and the user will, therefore, be liable for any and all damages of any nature whatsoever arising from such utilisation of the website.

Limitation of liability

The user expressly understands and agrees that the University shall not be liable for any damages (subject to the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 (Act 68 of 2008) (even if the University has been advised of the possibility of such damages) resulting from: (i) the use or the inability to use the website; (ii) the cost of procurement of substitute goods and services resulting from any data, information or services obtained or messages received or transactions entered into through the website; (iii) unauthorised access to or alteration of the user’s transmissions or data; (iv) statements or conduct of any third party on the website; or (v) any other matter relating to the website.