By Kerri Joffe, Staff Lawyer
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is the first legally binding international law to discuss the right to quality inclusive education. Article 24 of the CRPD provides that all persons with disabilities have a right to education. In order to realize the right to education without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities, States Parties have an obligation to ensure an inclusive education system at all levels.
This is significant since millions of persons with disabilities around the world are denied an education, and many others receive inferior education or segregated education in spaces where they are isolated from their peers.
(Endnote 1) In Ontario, students with disabilities are excluded from their neighbourhood schools and classrooms, and often face multiple barriers that prevent them from receiving education on an equal basis as others.
(Endnote 2) On September 2, 2016 the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities released General Comment No. 4, which provides more detailed information about the right to inclusive education. Inclusive education is important because it is central to achieving high quality education for all learners, and for developing inclusive, peaceful and fair societies. It is also a way for people with disabilities to lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully in their communities.
Article 24 of the CRPD provides that States Parties must create inclusive education systems at all levels, including pre-schools, primary, secondary and tertiary education, vocational training and extracurricular activities.
The General Comment highlights the difference between integration and inclusion. Integration occurs when persons with disabilities are placed in regular classrooms, and are expected to adjust to standard requirements in those classrooms. This is different than inclusion. Inclusion aims to provide all students with an equitable and participatory learning experience and environment that best corresponds to their individual needs. Inclusion involves a process of systemic reform, including making changes to content, teaching methods, approaches, and educational structures in order to remove barriers and create truly inclusive classrooms.
In order to implement inclusive education, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has encouraged States Parties to apply the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach. UDL is an educational approach that recognizes that each student learns in a unique way, and develops flexible methods of learning and meeting educational requirements. Employing UDL is one way in which schools can create learning environments that are inclusive and educational for all students, including students with disabilities.
The right to inclusive education also includes the right to be provided with accommodation to meet an individual student’s disability-related needs. The General Comment recognizes
that it is discriminatory to deny accommodation. States Parties have an obligation to monitor the effectiveness of individual accommodations, and to ensure there is a timely and accessible way to obtain redress if an accommodation has been denied or is not appropriate.
The General Comment discusses specific opportunities that States Parties must provide to students with particular disabilities. For example, students with vision disabilities must be given opportunities to learn Braille, alternative script and augmentative and alternative means of communication. Deaf and hard of hearing students must be given opportunities to learn sign language and Deaf culture. Students labelled with intellectual disabilities must be given concrete, clear language learning materials in a safe learning environment.
The General Comment states that the right to education is a matter of access and content. Inclusive education must aim to promote mutual respect and value for all persons, as well as a culture of tolerance and diversity.
These are just some of the highlights from the General Comment. The General Comment is 24 pages long and contains a lot of inspiring and detailed information about the actions that States Parties must take in order to create and maintain inclusive education systems. To read the General Comment, go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/GC.aspx
Endnote 1: UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, General Comment No. 4 (2016) Article 24: Right to inclusive education, 2 September 2016, CRPD/C/GC/4, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/GC.aspx [accessed 12 September 2016]
Endnote 2: Through our Summary Advice and Referral Service, and through our community development work,
ARCH regularly hears from students with disabilities and their families about the barriers they experience in Ontario education services.