Hope for the disabled

Disabled youth have some hope of employment courtesy of I Can, an academy that focuses on the incorporation into society of children and adults with disabilities.

Physically and intellectually impaired individuals struggle to get jobs as many of them lack the skills they need to be employable, and disabled people only comprise 0.8% of the workforce. There is a huge gap that needs to be filled to make sure that these individuals have a chance of making it into the mainstream job market.

Established in 2010, I Can works in partnership with Khulisani, an enterprise development initiative for the disabled. It recognises the need to train disabled people, which it does through learnership programmes. Students are equipped with a fundamental skills as well as practical work experience over 12 months. They receive a monthly stipend of R1 000 as well as a National Qualification Framework (NQF) certificate at the end of the programme.


ican-250I Can recognises the need to train disabled people, which it does through learnership programmes (Images: Kgopi Mabotja)The learnerships are run over semesters and focus mainly on life skills that will ultimately make the students more employable. They include training in health and hygiene as well as in business practices. Students are taught how to run successful businesses.

All the academy’s learnerships are seta approved and have been moderated to determine if they are competent in all modules on offer. I Can has received its National Skills Education Training Authorities in South Africa (seta) certificate, and it works with a number of employers who gain disability equity as well as broad-based black economic empowerment points.

An I Can learnership is run in Vereeniging at Eurisko, a sheltered workshop for the disabled. “We identified that there was a gap in Vereeniging, hence we set up here,” explains Rachael Erskine, the Khulisani project manager. But it is not without its challenges. “This place is struggling. Companies used to come to Eurisko to set up tasks such as packing and sorting out mail. However, all that work has been taken from [it] and the people at the centre are left with nothing to do,” she adds.


I Can was founded by Allison Smeeton, mother of Jamie, who has Down Syndrome, after she attended a therapy programme at the International Centre for Enhancement of Learning Potential in Jerusalem, Israel. Inspired by this, adult development academies were set up in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Vereeniging.

I Can offers a range of services, including placements at which all the learners are placed in suitable employment when they have finished their learnerships. These job placements are found for them by Khulisani. There is also a focus on socio-economic development, and a children’s therapy centre in Durban. The team at the centre includes occupational and speech therapists who work with children with learning and intellectual disabilities.