Rights and Liberty for the Intellectually Disabled

‘Intellectual Disabilities’

How familiar are you with this term? Are you aware of this term?

Defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe as “a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information and to learn and apply new skills (impaired intelligence)”, Intellectual Disabilities affects an individual’s ability to function independently. 

Dozens of children in Sri Lanka are born with this disability. They face challenges in fitting in and being a part of society due to many social and legal barriers placed on them. Therefore, the underlying question remains, ‘Are we doing enough to support them?’

Recently, the Students for Liberty Sri Lanka Chapter in collaboration with HYPE Sri Lanka, hosted a webinar on the “Rights and Liberties for People with Intellectually Disabled”. The event was presented by Lasanthi Daskon, Deputy Country Director for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Sri Lanka, touching upon many important issues. 

What does the law say?

Sri Lanka does not have any laws that restrict people with Intellectual Disabilities from living a normal life, but again, the law does not have any provisions that protect or support them either. This can be a problem with relation to the social element of their lives as it allows these individuals to be subjected to bullying. 

Take, for example, elections in Sri Lanka. Although legally, they are allowed to vote, the social stigma on People with Intellectual Disabilities or the commonly heard statement ‘how can an unintelligent person be allowed to vote?’ exists to a great extent. There are instances when these individuals are returned due to these persisting issues, despite holding no legal basis. Now think of going through that emotion on a regular basis, in every aspect of your life.

Independent living  

Generally, this goes down in two ways. In a household scenario, where the child is under the care of his/her parents and they hold legal guardianship, the parents live in continued fear, pondering over what will happen to their child after them. This is an issue because the system does not have any mechanisms that provide for independent living. Although this will not resolve the issue entirely, it will leave room to secure the rights and liberties of persons with intellectual disabilities.

Secondly, a lot of times, children with intellectual disabilities end up in institutions. They live their entire life in these institutions, with no sense of independence, no social rights or freedom, as a matter of fact, they are not even considered a person. This is a large issue in Sri Lanka, which up to date remains unaddressed. A much-needed requirement to start a conversation on this issue within the community remains, here’s hoping this is a start. 


Schools in Sri Lanka lack the necessary human and financial resources that are required to include children with intellectual disabilities. The fact is that it is difficult for a teacher to handle a classroom full of 40 students and at the same time, provide the resources for children with intellectual disabilities. Schools need to start normalising their presence by giving teachers special training to help ease their transition. This can be done in various forms, one such way is by reconsidering educational materials that are content heavy. These books can be changed to fit the needs of children with intellectual disabilities. 

Ultimately, inclusive education is the solution to this problem. It starts by sensitising people to this issue, be it teachers, parents, and other students. Creating awareness will bring results. Thereafter, providing the necessary resources and access to services will give birth to an inclusive environment.

Job opportunities

Government sectors lack in giving individuals with intellectual disabilities any opportunities, be it due to lack of education or understanding, but it is rarely seen. What does this say about Sri Lanka?

As for the private sector, slowly but steadily the number is increasing, the issue here remains their mindset. To most firms, this is another CSR stunt, a form of tokenism that needs to be eradicated. They need to be hired for the right reasons, these jobs give them the ability to live an independent life and an opportunity to be part of society. 

Once again, sensitisation is key. Major issues in the corporate world are due to fear and ignorance. People are unaware of how to treat persons with intellectual disabilities, which results in them being subject to mistreatment, ostracisation. People often hold the idea that they are less capable and therefore, ‘feel sorry’ for them. That is the wrong attitude to hold. Persons with intellectual disabilities need to be treated normally, like you would any other person. The way to do this is by providing the necessary resources and access for them to go about their days. It is the system that needs to change. 

The Insanity Clause 

Today, a common misconception held with regard to ‘The Insanity Clause’ is its relation to persons with intellectual disabilities. The matter of fact is that there is none. The Insanity Clause does not hold any legal ground on them, it is a clause that is commonly used as a form of leverage to gain property, for example, during a divorce or a family rivalry, where an individual is declared mentally unsound. 

The two concepts are not correlated in any way.

Now that you have all this newfound knowledge, get out there, and fight for their rights. It is time to normalise this conversation and get more people involved in the cause. 

This article was based on the webinar titled “The Rights and Liberties of People with Intellectual Disabilities” organised by the Students for Liberty-Sri Lanka Chapter in collaboration with HYPE Sri Lanka.

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