All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and therefore all persons with disabilities must enjoy these benefits as much as anyone else. Yet, persons with disabilities remain amongst the most marginalised groups globally.
Approximately 90% of children with disabilities do not go to school in low income and lower middle income countries (UNICEF 2014). In particular women and girls with disabilities and people with disabilities from low socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic minorities often lack access to education and are denied the enjoyment of other basic human rights.
As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child has the right to free education. Furthermore, the UN Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities obliges governments to ensure free, inclusive and quality primary education for persons with disabilities as well as equal employment opportunities.
Some countries have taken notable steps to integrate and mainstream international instruments in national and local policies. However, even where policies are in place and discourses around disability rights have shifted, the actual implementation has been much slower. This gap is often due to the lack of political will and financial resources, but also relates back to the discriminatory norms, attitudes and values both at the institutional and individual level. The absence of trained teachers (As defined in EI’s Policy Paper on Education, the term ‘teachers’ is used to refer to a broad category of educators, teachers, trainers, academic staff and researchers that are represented by EI affiliates) and education support personnel and structural impediments such as inaccessible classrooms and lack of user-friendly facilities and tools continue to keep children and youth with disabilities out of school, or in school but not benefiting to the maximum.
In addition, the increasing privatisation of public services as well as the standardisation of education poses increasing challenges to the fulfillment of rights of people with disabilities and their families. Inclusive public systems and enabling services such as public housing, public healthcare, disability-related assistance and infrastructure must be strengthened to ensure full participation of persons with disabilities in education and society without discrimination.
Education International (EI) actively promotes the development of inclusive education systems and decent work for teachers and education support personnel at all levels of education – from early childhood education to higher education.
One of Education International’s founding principles is “to promote the right to education for all persons in the world, without discrimination.” (Article 2 (f), EI Constitution). Furthermore, EI’s Policy Paper on Education “recognises the need to accelerate the realization of rights to quality inclusive education as well as to remove physical barriers, and to advocate for financing quality public services to people with disabilities and to inclusion in the labor market”.
In 2015, Education International reiterated its commitment to move this agenda forward and adopted a resolution on the Rights of Children and Teachers with Disabilities. The Resolution expresses concern regarding the lack of progress made so far and formulates concrete recommendations to improve current policies and practices.
Quality Inclusive Education
For Education International inclusive education means that all students should be educated together, to the same high standards, in so far as possible in the same education institution, irrespective of their gender, faith, ethnic, cultural or economic background or physical or intellectual capacities. The educational experience of students should instill in them concepts of equality, tolerance and respect for diversity.
Inclusive schools play a key role in creating inclusive and enabling societies and empowering people with disabilities to reach their full potential, contribute to society, learn about their rights and find decent work. It is also key to changing and challenging people’s perceptions and attitudes towards people with disabilities and developing just and inclusive societies.
Adequately trained, qualified and well-supported teachers, educators, higher education personnel and education support personnel with and without disabilities play a central role in providing inclusive education and are role models for children and youth.
Access to free quality education, user-friendly facilities, as well as comprehensive social protection plans for children with disabilities and their families reduce barriers for parents to enroll their children in education institutions.
EI advocates for adequate and attractive conditions of employment and salaries, professional autonomy, career advancement, healthcare and pension benefits for the education workforce. This includes providing and promoting the employment and integration of people with disabilities in education institutions.
However, in order to recruit and retain high calibre entrants with disabilities to work in the field of education, decent working conditions must be ensured and related roles must be inclusive without discrimination. Public authorities should support and monitor employment practices to ensure that discrimination does not occur.
Education unions play a key role in advocating for the right to decent work for workers with disabilities by, for instance, integrating disability issues in social dialogue and collective agreements. Here, it should also be taken into account that disability can happen to anyone due to disease or accident. Adequate social protection systems need to be in place to ensure adequate support for workers who are forced to discontinue their profession due to a disability or who can only continue working part time.
Under the banner ‘Rethinking Disability’, Education International is scaling up its work on the rights of people with disabilities and the development of inclusive education systems. This includes continuing and intensifying EI’s work with education unions and disability organisations, sharing best practices, doing advocacy work as well as conducting research and gathering data. Currently, a literature review and strategy document for inclusive classrooms is being developed and a global survey will contribute to strengthening this work.
Education International also advocates for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which include a number of references to the rights of people with disabilities (e.g., SDG4 on education and SDG 8 on decent work). Education International has developed an indicator toolkit that provides guidance on how to monitor SDG4 on education and which includes a number of references to disability issues.
Education International is also working together with the International Labor Organization towards achieving the decent work agenda for people with disability. In addition, EI promotes the implementation of the UNESCO-ILO recommendations concerning the status of teachers and higher education teaching personnel, as well as the ILO Policy Guidelines on the Promotion of Decent Work for Early Childhood EducationPersonnel, which all include references to workers with disabilities.
In 2014 EI’s European Region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE)’s Standing Committee for Equality came up with recommendations on how education staff can mainstream diversity, promote inclusion and special needs education.
Further reading/Resource Section
International legal instruments and policy initiatives
- ILO conventions specifically dedicated to disability
Sustainable Development Goals
- ILO (2017) Trade Union Action on Disability and Decent Work