Education plays an essential role in everyone’s lives, and that was certainly true for me. Growing up in 1950s Brooklyn, NY, with no laws guaranteeing disabled people the same rights as others, I was unable to attend my neighborhood school. The principal told my mother that I could not be a student there because I was a wheelchair user. Instead, they sent a teacher to my home for two and a half hours a week, until I was nine years old, when I was finally allowed to attend only segregated classes. This marked the beginning of a long journey for me and my family, as we became advocates for my rights and the rights of other disabled people.
I’m happy to say that thanks to laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (whose 25th and 40th anniversaries we celebrate this year), the discrimination I experienced as a child is no longer lawful. We continue to work to improve access to education for students with disabilities in the United States, so that inclusive education is not the exception it was when I was growing up, and students with disabilities can obtain the skills and qualifications they need to be competitive in the labor market.
However, barriers to education for students with disabilities remain prevalent around the world. In many countries, students with disabilities are less likely to go to school, more likely to drop out early, and are less likely to learn key skills than non-disabled students. That’s why I’m excited that inclusive education is one of the focus themes of the UNESCO World Education Forum (WEF), occurring May 19-22 in Incheon, Republic of Korea. As the world community contemplates the Millennium Development Goal of “Education for All” and how education should be addressed in the post-2015 development agenda, the WEF offers a prime opportunity to examine how we can all better ensure access to inclusive education for students with disabilities.
The United States will be well represented at the WEF with Maureen McLaughlin, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education, heading a delegation of high-level representatives and experts from agencies such as USAID, the Department of State, and the Department of Agriculture. The U.S. will also co-sponsor two side events, including a panel with UNICEF on inclusive education, featuring UNESCO Chair Dr. Phyllis Magreb. I’m excited to hear the outcomes of the WEF, and invite you to learn more at: https://en.unesco.org/world-education-forum-2015.
About the Author: Judith E. Heumann serves as Special Advisor for International Disability Rights.
For more information: