The Case for Disability Inclusive Education
USAID education staff and partners are often called upon in their work to explain, advocate for, or defend USAID’s education sector programmatic and funding priorities. Using evidence-based arguments to demonstrate the economic costs of exclusion and the gains of inclusion of people with disabilities in developing countries will provide both the social and economic rationale for education staff and partners to promote, design, implement, monitor, and evaluate education activities that include persons with disabilities as full participants in USAID education projects and activities.
The Cost of Exclusion
Although establishing disability inclusive education programming requires financial input, the costs of exclusion are higher in the long run. For example, as the International Centre for Evidence in Disability argues in a 2018 report, there are significant economic costs associated with the on-going exclusion of people with disabilities: “Exclusion of children with disabilities from education...can generate costs to individuals, families and societies through limiting work opportunities and subsequent lifetime earning potential.”
According to the report, children with disabilities in low-income countries are significantly less likely to complete primary school and have fewer years of education than their peers without disabilities. Even when children with disabilities do enroll in school, their dropout rates are higher than any other group, and they are often at a lower level of schooling for their age because of different factors such as late school starts and inaccessible learning materials, communication and environments.
Beyond having a negative impact on a personal level, this exclusion has wide-ranging, long-lasting implications on communities as a whole. Exclusion prevents these individuals from developing the skills necessary to obtain improved employment opportunities and income generation, thereby contributing to cycles of poverty and stagnant economic growth.
There is also evidence that suggests excluding persons with disabilities from education generates costs to the state. For example, the World Bank estimated that in Bangladesh, reductions in wage earnings attributed to lower levels of education among people with disabilities cost the economy US$26 million per year.
The Gains of Inclusion
With access to quality and equitable education, children and youth with disabilities can become productive, contributing members of society. Disability inclusive education supports the development of skills needed for job sectors and better prepares students with disabilities for higher education.
People with disabilities who receive a quality education receive between 19.3 to 25.6 percent higher wages than those who are not, and each additional year of schooling completed by an adult with a disability reduced by 2-5 percent the probability that their household will belong to the poorest two quintiles.
The International Centre for Evidence in Disability’s report breaks it down even further: “In Nepal, the inclusion of people with sensory or physical disabilities in schools was estimated to result in a rate of return of around 20 percent. In a similar study in the Philippines, increased schooling was associated with higher earnings among people with disabilities, generating an economic rate of return to education of more than 25 percent. In China, estimates indicated that each additional year of schooling for people with disabilities leads to a wage increase of approximately 5 percent for rural areas and 8 percent for urban areas.”
Furthermore, when children and youth with disabilities attend school, thereby freeing up their caretaker parents or siblings to also attend school or gain meaningful employment, a nation’s GDP rises by at least 2 percent as a result.
A Human Rights Issue
Beyond the financial costs and gains of education for individuals with disabilities, there is a human rights issue to consider. The extensive exclusion of people with disabilities from society is indefensible from a human rights and social justice perspective.
It is important to recognize that all children and youth, including those with disabilities, benefit from education, provided that systemic changes are made to the education system that fully incorporate solutions traditionally viewed as only for people with disabilities.
For example, evidence suggests that subtitles and sign languages traditionally intended only for deaf and hard-of-hearing populations can also improve the language and literacy abilities of hearing students, second language learners, and students with autism; and differentiated learning intended for children and youth with learning disabilities also benefits students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds as well as individuals who are gifted.
What’s more, disability inclusive education helps to foster a culture of respect and belonging in schools. In an environment where everyone is fair to one another and builds trusting relationships, far-reaching implications include accepting individual differences, resulting in reduced levels of violence in all forms including gender-based violence, crime, bullying, and discrimination.