Article on Education for Young People with Disabilities Westminster Hall Debate

Education is fundamental to ending the poverty, discrimination and exclusion faced by disabled people in developing countries, yet it is estimated that in most countries, disabled children are more likely to be out of school than any other group of children.

Disability has long been neglected as a “niche” area of development, deemed by many to be too complex or too small an issue to be core to development efforts. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) failed to mention disability, yet we now know that disabled people make up an estimated 15% of the global population (approximately one billion disabled people), and that disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. 80% of disabled people live in developing countries and the UN calls them “the world’s largest minority”.

Having travelled to Tanzania and Nigeria in this Parliament as part of my role as Co-Chair of the APPG on Global Education for All, and from my previous career as a primary school teacher, the provision of educational facilities to those with disabilities is something which I am passionate about.

I welcome recent announcements and progress made on this issue by DFID.  Following their response to the International Affairs Select Committee Report earlier this year, DFID is developing a new ‘Disability Framework’ which is very welcome, but which must prioritise education, and the accessibility of education for those with disabilities.

We must also ensure the ‘Disability Framework’ is implemented properly and is action-oriented with strong accountability mechanisms, requiring DFID teams to implement and report on whether they are reaching and including children with disabilities in UK aid programmes and funding.

While I commend the very positive commitment which has been made to ensure UK-funded school construction is accessible to disabled children, this is not the only thing needed. Physical accessibility needs to be complemented by attitude change, and by inclusive teaching and learning environments.  As I saw for myself in Tanzania, there is only so far installing a ramp in a school can go in helping to deliver a disabled child’s education.

All teacher-training programmes supported by UK aid must promote inclusive teaching approaches, and all education aid programmes should include a measure of whether they are reaching disabled children and young people. All children with disabilities have the same right to an education as every other child, and UK aid can help support the resourcing of inclusive education – which ultimately benefits all children, not just children with disabilities, and helps change societal attitudes and negative discrimination about disability.

The appalling lack of data available is a major barrier to the recognition of disability as a core development issue. However, with improvements in data over recent years, there is now an unprecedented opportunity to bring the needs of disabled people into the light, and I welcome the positive moves DFID has taken on this.

As we approach the Post-2015 Millennium Development Goal negotiations, DFID must seek to ensure that the needs and rights of disabled people are recognised as an agreed priority in the final goals and targets.  International negotiations will be difficult, with many different agendas, so I hope that DFID will work to ensure that the ‘leave no-one behind’ target doesn’t get lost.  


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