Persons with disability
Many (if not most!) disabled persons are hidden away, stigmatised, and hardly exist in any official way, according to statistics and the community. Needless to say, they face more problems than most in accessing school and in receiving an education that both recognises and meets their special needs as well as including them in society on an equal footing, giving them equal life opportunities.
A new convention for a new century
In most countries, there are no constitutional and legal provisions for persons with disabilities. However, it is fitting that the first major international human rights treaty of the 21st Century should focus on disability: The International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, especially article 24 on the right to education, must now serve as inspiration and common standard of achievement in changing and amending national laws.
Challenging perceptions and false priorities
In many countries children with disabilities are excluded from school. This is particularly the case if a girl child has a disability. In some cultures children with disabilities are seen as a curse, and as such are hidden away from the wider community. In others, it is more a matter of priorities. Perhaps the costs associated with education mean that a child without a disability is prioritised, as educating a disabled child is seen as a wasted investment. Or the school may not have the facilities or teaching staff to include children with disabilities.
Work on disabilities needs to include:
Challenging community prejudice – looking at what is seen as a disability, why, what expectations community members have of disabled children, what disabled children spend their time doing, what their employment potential is, etc.
Developing skills, capacity and confidence – to work effectively with disabled children, building teacher confidence and ability to work with a range of different disabilities, or bringing in teachers with specific skills and training.
Providing additional funding – to ensure school infrastructure is appropriate for children with disabilities: that the classroom is accessible, the books are appropriate, there are accessible sanitation facilities, etc.
Developing inclusive education policies and practices at national, local and at school level – to ensure proper investment in inclusive education, as well as good interaction at school level, challenging any potential bullying or exclusive behaviour.
It is also crucially important to engage with disabled children directly, to build their confidence, awareness of their rights, and capacity to communicate. In Bangladesh participatory processes, such as Reflect, are being adapted for use with groups of disabled children. This is working particularly well with groups of children with the same disability (for example groups in which all the children are deaf, or partially sighted) as the children are able to develop their own systems of communication, which play to their strengths. Such group work has enabled participants to discuss issues among themselves, as well as communicate their understanding and perspectives to the wider community.