A Critical Analysis of Key Policies Shaping Services for Young Children with Disabilities in South Africa

Keywords: children with disabilities; disability; early childhood development; inclusion; policy


There have been significant recent developments in the policy arena in South Africa in respect of disability and of early childhood development viz. the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy. Using Bacchi’s analytical framework encapsulated in the question, What’s the problem represented to be?, these policies were subjected to scrutiny, analysing how disability and inclusion are represented within them, and how these representations shape the lives of young children with disabilities. Among the underlying assumptions contained in these policies is that barriers excluding persons with disabilities are socially constructed and their removal will result in inclusion. Further, the policies imply that marginalisation and vulnerability are inherent traits of children with disabilities. Inclusion is portrayed as an ideology rather than a practice.  Amongst unproblematised elements of the polices is the supposition that children with disabilities are a homogenous group, and that there is a distinction between children with and without disabilities. The effects of these representations manifest in a focus on social barriers, which downplays the importance of habilitation and rehabilitation for the individual child and may result in children with disabilities being portrayed as passive recipients of services. It may also undermine choice and agency of children and their families.  Further, the analysis indicates that defining the principle of inclusion too broadly makes it difficult to measure.

Author Biographies

Susan Philpott, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Post-doctoral candidate, School of Eduction, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Nithi Muthukrishna, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Emeritus professor, School of Eduction, University of KwaZulu-Natal