Education is a basic necessity for all people. It is a fundamental right. It is the primary means by which disadvantaged people can lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully in their community. It gives independence, citizenship rights, employment and economic power.
There are 50 Articles (sections) in the United Nations Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities. Article 24 is about disabled people’s right to education. It’s not surprising that this Article is one of the longest in the Disability Convention.
The first part of the Article (paragraph 1) affirms that disabled people have the right to education and to all the benefits that come with that. The second part of this article explains ways to make sure disabled people get their right to education. It sets out a framework for equal opportunity and equal access to education for disabled people. This includes providing inclusive education, supports, reasonable accommodations, teaching in sign language and Braille and teachers qualified in sign language and Braille.
Simply providing access to education is not enough to ensure the right to education for disabled people. Other things must be provided – equal opportunities to succeed, quality education and education for the full development of the human potential.
Four broad international standards are often used for assessing the right to education. They are the concepts of availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability. Availability means educational opportunities meet the needs of all learners; and ensures the availability of skilled and qualified teachers and support staff. Accessibility means education opportunities must be available to everyone equally, ie, barriers to education are eliminated. Acceptability involves quality standards in the curricula, teaching methods and environments, eg, being relevant, culturally appropriate and of good quality. Adaptability means education has to be flexible. It promotes equitable outcomes for all learners and it can respond to the diverse needs of students.
Taken together, the right to education means equipment and teaching materials match needs, teaching methods, and curricula suit the needs of all children and promote acceptance of diversity. Reasonable accommodations and supports are provided to give disabled people equal opportunities to succeed. This includes providing accessible transport, accessible physical environments, appropriate books, resources and other material in appropriate formats (Braille, sign language, etc). All teachers are trained in teaching disabled people and specialist teachers are appropriately skilled and qualified. Teachers’ attitudes and expectations encourage the abilities of disabled people. Opportunities are provided in all subjects and extra curricula activities.
This is not impossible, it is as it should be, no less and no more than for other New Zealanders. Full access to, and equal opportunities in, education is a right. The Disability Convention spells out very clearly how to make this real for disabled people.
Everyone is responsible to help ensure the right to education for disabled people happens. The Government is responsible for making sure legislation, policy, practice and monitoring processes enable the right to education for disabled people. The Human Rights Commission advocates for the right to education, deals with complaints and provides independent monitoring. Non-government organisations, parents, teachers and peers need to be involved in the design and delivery of policy and practice and help with monitoring and raising awareness of issues.
The Government is currently reviewing “Special Education”. A discussion document (see article in this newsletter) is seeking feedback on 10 key questions about the best way to support students with special education needs. The Disability Convention can go some way in helping to answer these.