The Guiding Principles of Disability Inclusive Education
When developing and implementing disability inclusive education programs, it is incumbent upon practitioners to understand the nuances of disability, as well as the resources required for quality and equitable education for learners with disabilities. The best way to understand the nuances and needs of the disability community is to engage and work directly with Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs).
“Nothing About Us, Without Us”
This adage of the disability community conveys the strong conviction that policies, programs, and other activities addressing disability should be prepared and put into action with the full and direct participation of persons with disabilities and their organizations. To this end, putting the key principles discussed above into practice means:
- Locating people with disabilities in project areas and assessing their needs. In many places, people with disabilities are stigmatized and hidden away from society or overlooked due to the invisibility of their disability (e.g. intellectual disabilities, DeafBlind). Local Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) and community leaders can help locate persons with disabilities within their communities. Never assume a community is without disability.
- Recruiting people with disabilities to participate as decision-makers in all levels of strategy and programming efforts. Consult local and international DPOs in project design, implementation and evaluation.
- Including family members of children with disabilities as contributing partners in efforts for disability inclusive education. Family members of children with disabilities have a role to play in the education of their children and should be supported with current practices and understanding of inclusive education that is informed by the disability community.
Beyond this basic stakeholder engagement, however, is another crucial obligation: to integrate the guiding principles of inclusive education into all programming and apply them in practical ways.
Integrate the Four Key Principles of Inclusive Education in All Programs
The following guiding principles—equity, safety, leadership and empowerment and do no harm—should be reflected in all efforts to address disability inclusive education, much like they are for integrating gender into education programming.
Equity. Equitable access to and retention in quality learning from early grades to higher education, as well as workforce development opportunities, is necessary to address inequalities and to close gaps. Working toward equity in education programming requires removing barriers to enrollment, retention, and completion of education, as well as ensuring quality of teaching and learning. Equity in learning implies supporting inclusive pedagogy and learning practices.
To address equity, it is essential that education programming address the policy environment in which it is operating, support universal design for learning and teaching processes, and respond to economic or social barriers to education.
Equity is measured by disaggregation (by sex) of data in enrollment, access and retention measures, and learning outcomes data by age bands, gender, disability types, and LGBT and/or intersex identities. Equity also means improving the public education system for learners with disabilities and not creating or supporting parallel systems of education that segregate students with disabilities from their peers.
Safety. Unsafe learning environments and travel to and from school are some of the main barriers affecting retention and learning outcomes for learners with disabilities. Safety in education programming—i.e., physical and emotional safety and psycho-social support in the learning environment, particularly in crisis and conflict contexts—requires addressing school-related, identity-based violence and marginalization.
The drivers of identity-based violence are largely based in harmful gender and social norms, which shape the inequalities and marginalization reflected in learning spaces. To address safety, education programming should mitigate and reduce identity-based violence and marginalization, provide socio-emotional learning, and transform harmful social norms.
Leadership and Empowerment. Contributions to, and agency in, society beyond the classroom is core to the sustainability of education programming. Inclusive education programming addresses how school-based activities can empower students to shape their own decision-making and critical thinking, influencing their employment prospects and contribution to society. To address leadership and empowerment, education programming should include soft skills training, mentoring, healthy behavior, civic engagement, and accessing workforce opportunities and advancement opportunities.
Do No Harm: Many general education teachers have not yet acquired skills and knowledge of how to support children with disabilities’ various needs in mainstream inclusive classrooms. Appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that children with disabilities can successfully reach their optimum potential for learning in the general education classroom without losing supports that they may have previously received in special school settings. As countries move to make their education systems more inclusive, long term strategic planning and care is required to ensure mainstream schools and teachers are properly equipped to provide education and related supports to children with disabilities. To address ‘Do No Harm’, education programming should analyze whether an education system currently has the capacity to teach and support the diversity of learners in the classroom and look to strengthen the entire education system, including higher education, so that teachers are prepared. The transition from special schools to inclusive schools must be well-planned and often requires a phased approach to ensure children arrive at schools that are ready to accept them.