Overcoming Challenges to Disability Inclusive Education
150 million of the 1 billion persons with disabilities around the world are children, with 80 percent living in developing countries. Children with disabilities are the single most marginalized group of children; they are the last to enter school and more likely to drop out of school before completing primary or secondary education.
Millions of children and youth with disabilities around the world, especially girls with disabilities, are left out of education and workforce development plans due to a number of challenges, both cultural and institutional. Here, we discuss these challenges and offer ways to overcome them in order to achieve the goal of universally obtained inclusion.
Not knowing where to start
Ensuring that children and youth with disabilities have access to education and providing them with a learning environment that has appropriate materials and teachers with necessary skills for success in learning can be challenging. Furthermore, parents and communities sometimes actively disagree with efforts to mainstream children and youth with disabilities into the education system. To add another layer of complexity to an already challenging area, disability inclusive education is context-specific. In addition, there is a lack of understanding of the diverse needs of children and youth with disabilities and what is considered the least restrictive learning environment.
- Opportunity: Work with Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) while reviewing models and implementation examples. There is no one way to do inclusive education as the disability community is not homogenous. However, there are models and examples of how inclusive education has been implemented in various countries that education staff and partners can draw from while keeping the principle of Do No Harm in mind. For example, UNICEF has an example of inclusive education from India. The study assesses the state of inclusive education in the country in terms of policies, resources and practices, and identifies and documents the experiences of “good practice models” of inclusive education for children with disabilities. Similarly, The Global Campaign for Education UK issued a report on Equity and Inclusion for All in Education, which includes several examples of successful inclusive education programs.
Collecting Data on Disability
When assessing the situation of access and inclusion of persons with disabilities in a country, it may be difficult to obtain or rely on the accuracy of disability data. While the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15 percent of the global population has a disability, national data on disability prevalence is often not available or is significantly underestimated due to unreliable measurements.
Children with disabilities often go unidentified at birth, which contributes to their invisibility and exclusion from education and other services. For programs to meet a country or community’s educational needs, quality data should be collected in order to effectively prioritize, plan for and ensure the best use of resources, and appropriately inform programming needs to provide the best service possible to host-country governments and communities, especially marginalized communities.
- Opportunity: Leverage data collected by the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program’s optional Disability Module. The module is based on the Washington Group (WG) Short Set of Questions on Disability and is the result of collaboration between the DHS program, WG and USAID. This data will help USAID and partners, both local and global, make better informed decisions about disability inclusive policies and programming.
- Opportunity: Conduct a disability needs assessment. When data is in short supply during project and activity design, or if more nuanced data is needed, education staff may need to undertake a disability needs assessment in the country in which they are working. Ideally, the assessment is done as part of the planning stage of the program cycle to inform the design of an intervention. However, an assessment can also be done mid-project if it is discovered that a current intervention is not addressing the needs of learners with disabilities and there is an opportunity to potentially do so. Disability needs assessments can take place on their own or as part of broader assessments, such as Gender and Social Inclusion assessments or Youth Assessments.
- Opportunity: Identify opportunities for enriching information in current or planned assessments. Consider adding indicators or including the WG Short Set of Questions on Disability in other current or planned assessments to allow for disability disaggregation. Find out whether there is existing administrative data from the country’s Ministry of Education’s Education Management Information System (EMIS), for example, or in household surveys or other types of significant sub-sample or census assessments undertaken by the country, donors, Disabled Persons Organizations or NGOs and/or civil society organizations such as Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys.
Addressing Issues of Stigma with Parents and Communities
Stigma is often perpetuated when parents are exposed to the opinions of healthcare practitioners, who are usually the first to discover a child or youth’s disability. Many practitioners utilize the medical model of disability, which focuses only on the individual’s limitations and attempts to fix those limitations so the person can normalize to society’s standards.
- Opportunity: The disability community’s preferred method is to use the social and human rights based models, which seeks to alter society by identifying and changing negative attitudes and systemic barriers that cause people to be stereotyped as “persons with disabilities.” That said, early detection and intervention in tandem with the disability community’s preferred interventions is critical in identifying the most appropriate education opportunities for a child or youth with disability.
Lack of parent and community engagement
Often, only minimal work is being done with parents and communities of children and youth with disabilities to change negative attitudes and stigma toward disability. In addition, little effort is being made toward encouraging parents to bring their child with a disability to school and become more engaged with that child’s educational journey. When families and communities work together with the school system to support a child in their education, students have better grades, stay in school and acquire better social skills and behavior.
- Opportunity: Give parents and communities the right tools and resources to make better decisions. This will result in children and youth with healthier identities, a stronger sense of psychosocial well-being and stronger families and communities. Some of the most successful people come from families supportive of their children; this is especially true for children and youth with disabilities. A technical booklet created by UNICEF Parents, Family and Community Participation in Inclusive Education guides people through the process of engaging families and communities. Another resource is the Community-Based Rehabilitation model as described in UNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children with Disabilities.