What Does Disability Inclusive Education Look Like?
As many as 93 million to 150 million primary and lower secondary-school age children with disabilities in developing countries are out of school; they are less likely to enroll and complete a full cycle of basic education. Children with disabilities are the single most marginalized group of children, and children with disabilities are the last to enter school and more likely to leave 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 stigma, poor data collection, and a lack of knowledge on how to make learning and work environments inclusive and accessible. Although many donors have attempted to address these issues, with extremely limited funding and disproportionate response to the need, the goal of inclusion has yet to be universally obtained.
Here, we discuss what disability inclusive education looks like.
For All Students, At All Levels
Inclusive education means having one inclusive system of education for all students, at all levels, (early childhood, primary, secondary and post-secondary) with the provision of supports to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities.
Inclusion involves a profound cultural shift to ensure that all children, as well as staff, parents and other members of the school community feel valued, welcomed and respected. It requires a process of systemic reform with changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures and strategies. Placing students with disabilities within mainstream classes without accompanying structural changes to, for example, organisation, curriculum, teacher training and learning strategies, does not constitute inclusion.
Suggested ReadingHow-To Note Disability Inclusive Education
Ensuring Successful Inclusion
From the outset, successful disability inclusive education requires a shift in focus of the perceived problem. Instead of viewing a learner with a disability as problematic, which can lead to exclusion from school altogether, it’s vital to view the education system as the source of difficulty.
In other words, the dilemma is not that the student is “different” from other learners, cannot learn or has special needs, but rather the education system is not equipped to handle diversity and lacks appropriate training and teaching supports.
Indeed, the education system is responsible for ensuring the right to education for all students, including those with disabilities. To this end, schools should provide responsive, child-friendly learning environments and establish a professional environment in which educators are working deliberately and actively to promote inclusive and equitable education for all. More specifically, successful inclusion means that schools are:
- Accessible, including sign language environments with signing peers, materials and methods, in particular through national sign language(s), Braille, augmentative and alternative modes of communication, easy-to-read materials and access to information and communication technologies, etc.
- Based on the principles of universal design so that all children have access to the school building itself, including toilets, spaces for sports, recreation and leisure; and
- Equipped with teachers trained in Universal Design for Learning who are prepared to teach children with diverse learning styles, including those with intellectual disabilities and where supports and resources are available to the teachers and students for specific needs such as differentiated instruction, orientation skills, Braille, sign language training, hearing loops, speech-to-text, etc.