As States Parties to Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Continue Session, Round Tables Address Right to Education, Living in the Community

2 September 2010
HR/5031

As States Parties to Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Continue Session, Round Tables Address Right to Education, Living in the Community

2 September 2010
General Assembly
HR/5031
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

States Parties to Convention

on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)

As States Parties to Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Continue

Session, Round Tables Address Right to Education, Living in the Community

 

Speakers Call for Implementing ‘Inclusive’ Education Model,

Person-Centred Planning for Community Inclusion, Closing of ‘Outdated’ Institutions

Equal access to education — with accommodating teachers, understanding students and a supportive administration — coupled with respect for the right of disabled persons to choose where and with whom they lived were vital elements for realizing the full spectrum of human rights, the third Conference of States Parties of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was told today, in two round table discussions concerning those issues.

Chaired by Prince Ra’ad bin Zeid (Jordan) and Noluthando Agatha Mayende-Sibiya, Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities of South Africa, the round table on “Inclusion and the right to education”, relating to article 24 of the Convention, featured presentations by:  Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Robert Prouty, World Bank; Markku Jokinen, World Federation of the Deaf; Shybe Chalklen, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disability; and Ana Pelaez, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Chalklen said that, while more children with disabilities attended mainstream schools than ever before, inclusive education polices remained unimplemented.  In South Africa, for example, excellent polices provided for a non-discriminatory education system.  But implementation in KwaZulu Natal province showed that not all the five special schools in that area had the necessary skills and resources.  To deal with the gap between what had been promulgated nationally and implemented locally, the lack of awareness, resources, political will, teaching materials and understanding of legal frameworks must be addressed.

Adding to that, Mr. Jokinen said that, without an education, a deaf child could be easily excluded in all spheres of life.  In fact, very few deaf people were able to enjoy their basic human rights.  Citing a study that showed that 90 per cent of deaf children and adults in poor countries had not been to school, he said many other deaf children go through primary school without learning to read or write.  Securing high quality education for deaf children required early identification of deaf infants, full and equal access to education, resources to teach sign language, support for employment programmes and assessments of the features of indigenous sign languages.

The afternoon round table on “Inclusion and living in the community”, relating to article 19 of the Convention, was moderated by Adam Kosa (Hungary), and featured presentations by:  Mohammed Al Tarawneh, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Steven M. Eidelman, University of Delaware; and Senada Halilcevic, Inclusion Europe.

Mr. Eidelman said institutions — orphanages or hostels, for example — denied disabled persons access to larger society.  They were places where people were labelled as having a disability and were compelled to live together.  “Yet we’re still promoting institutions which are a very outdated model,” he stressed.  The ideal planning tool for community inclusion was “person-centred” planning, and he urged States to close institutions and build schools for all children.  The Convention was about the rights of people with disabilities, not the rights of organizations, and States must learn how to market “community inclusion”.

Strongly agreeing, Ms. Halilcevic said she had spent most of her childhood in institutions.  She often observed how people lived in a community, wondering why she could not live as they did.  “Young people in the community socialized”, she said, and attended school and work.  “I couldn’t do that.”  Having gathered information about how to leave, she arranged a meeting with an association that promoted inclusion in Zagreb.  She had been living in a community for over three years now and was able to decide what type of support she needed.  “I live like all other people,” she said.  “I feel useful because for the first time, I contribute to the community in which I live and work.”

During the lively interactive discussion that followed the two round tables, participants reaffirmed their commitment to the Convention and outlined national initiatives taken to adhere specifically to articles 24 (education) and 19 (living independently and being included in the community).

In the field of education, most delegates highlighted experiences in aligning national policies and legal frameworks with the Convention.  One speaker stressed that education systems should respect, accept and accommodate diverse student needs.  On a related point, one speaker noted that the University of the West Indies had established a centre for disability studies and was developing a Global Disability Index to track States’ progress in implementing the Convention.  It would rank States in a similar manner to the Human Development Index.

On the issue of community living, some speakers focused on the right of disabled persons to choose, on an equal basis with others, how they wished to live and participate in their communities.  The rights of many disabled persons, especially those needing strong support, had been violated by their forced entry into social care institutions or other residences where they were at risk of abuse or neglect.  Others had been forced to live in social or medical residences because their communities lacked affordable services.  Still others were isolated at home, relying exclusively on family support and often with little control over their well-being.  In that context, delegates urged the sharing of best practices.

Immediately following the round tables, an informal session on “Persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies”, related to article 11, was held with civil society representatives.

Also speaking in the interactive discussion today were the representatives of Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Thailand, Sudan, Turkey, South Africa, Mauritius, San Marino, Serbia, Germany, New Zealand, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, Nicaragua, Republic of Korea, Malawi, India, Qatar, China and Sweden.

Representatives of the following signatory countries to the Convention also spoke:  the United States; Nigeria; Niger; Israel; Colombia; and Togo.

A representative of the European Union also spoke.

Also participating was a representative of the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council.

The third Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 3 September, to hold an interactive dialogue on implementation of the Convention by the United Nations system and to conclude its session.

Background

The Third Conference of States Parties of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities continued its three-day meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York, under the theme “Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities through the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.  Participants — including States bound by the Convention, along with observers and civil society organizations — were expected to hold round table discussions on the themes of “Inclusion and the right to education” and “Inclusion and living in the community”. (For more information, please see Press Release HR/5029)

First Round Table Discussion

Chaired by Prince Ra’ad bin Zeid (Jordan) and Noluthando Agatha Mayende-Sibiya, Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities of South Africa, the round table on “Inclusion and the right to education” featured presentations by:  Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Robert Prouty, World Bank; Markku Jokinen, World Federation of the Deaf; Shybe Chalklen, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disability; and Ana Pelaez, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Prince RA’AD said that accessible education meant accessible schools, accommodating teachers, understanding students, a supportive administration and an encouraging community.  The challenge in achieving all those elements was great, but also enriching for communities, because in order to implement article 24 one must understand how the mind succeeds over its own limitations.  In Jordan, the Higher Council for the Persons with Disabilities had been a strong advocate, having recently generated accreditation priorities for inclusive schools.  It was realized that it was important to not only address needs in urban areas, but rural areas as well.  Programmes were now providing best practices to move from specialized to mainstream services.

Ms. MAYENDE-SIBIYA said that South Africa was committed to inclusive education and the right of disabled persons to express their views in school bodies and at the policy level.  All new schools being built must be accessible and the accessibility level of each facility would be made public.  Existing policies must be reviewed, she maintained, and for that reason, in South Africa measures were being introduced incrementally over a 20-year period.  In the first stage, the country had targeted some of the poorest parts of the country for schools that exemplified inclusivity, with a system of decentralized resources and support resources.  Information campaigns and monitoring systems were also being put in place.

Ms. CISTERNAS said that article 24 gave consistency and follow-up regarding diversification of rights, specifically the fundamental right to education and its implementation.  The right to education required guidelines that gave it substance.  Surveying the development of the rights field related to education, she said that, among those, inclusion and quality of education were central to persons with disabilities.  Quality was a comprehensive element in all considerations, so neither quality nor inclusiveness could be considered alone; there was an “ironclad link between the two”.  Specialized support and teaching, utilization of teachers who had disabilities themselves, the environment and other elements were important for both inclusion and quality, and all those factors should be considered at higher levels of education, as well as at the elementary level.

LINDA ENGLISH, speaking on behalf of Robert Prouty, World Bank, said that the Education for All Fast Track Initiative had the aim by 2015 of having all children complete primary education through comprehensive education sector plans.  So far, $2 billion in projects had been implemented in 38 low-income countries, out of 42 that had submitted comprehensive plans.  One third of out-of-school children in low-income countries were children with disabilities and about half the countries participating in the programme had presented strategies of inclusiveness.  But there were major difficulties, including the lack of databases and an inability to do assessment and screening. 

She said that it was important to work collaboratively, in a flexible way, to solve such problems, because the problem could not be tackled by education ministries themselves.  A model was being created now in Cambodia, where work showed that countries had taken a lot of steps toward identifying needs, but did not have the resources to address the problems.  In the case of Cambodia, new data management and referral systems were developed, along with a scholarship programme, among other measures.  Next steps included calculating prevalence rates for those who were out of school because of disabilities, developing specific results frameworks and transferring the Cambodia experience to other countries.

Next, Mr. JOKINEN said the Convention outlined the rights to receive education and access to information in sign language, and to promote the cultural and linguistic identity of the deaf community.  Without the right to receive equal education, a deaf child could be easily excluded in all spheres of life.  Parents must learn sign language, but children also needed the company of other deaf children.  A child could acquire sign language fully through visual perception.  How many deaf children enjoyed that kind of childhood?  Were there countries whose education systems respected deaf peoples’ language and culture?

Very few deaf people were truly able to enjoy their basic human rights, he said, noting a study that showed 90 per cent of deaf children and adults in poor countries had not been to school.  Many deaf children could go through primary school without learning to read or write.  The widespread lack of knowledge deprived deaf inclusion in large sections of society.  The bilingual approach, with a parallel emphasis on reading and writing, provided good opportunities for direct communication in all surroundings.  That approach maximized the linguistic and social development of deaf children.  Citing a survey showing that 23 of 93 country respondents said the bilingual approach was among those used, he said only one country — Venezuela — said the approach was the only one used for deaf children.

He said the following measures were needed to secure high quality education for deaf children:  early identification of deaf infants and youth; full and equal access to education for deaf learners; resources to teach sign language and deaf studies; support for programmes to help the deaf become employed; support for research into the creation of strategies for teaching; and assessing features in indigenous sign languages.

Mr. CHALKLEN said the exclusion of children and youth from education resulted in their exclusion from economic opportunities.  Noting the two main types of education — mainstream education and special education — he said there was a growing emphasis placed on non-discrimination in education.  While more children with disabilities attended mainstream schools than ever before, inclusive education polices remained unimplemented.  The Convention emphasized the full development of human potential and the full spectrum of learning requirements must be taken into account from childhood into adulthood.

He said that in South Africa, excellent polices that pre-dated the Convention included the South African Schools Act, providing for a non-discriminatory education system, and the higher education act.  But implementation in KwaZulu Natal province showed that not all the five special schools servicing that area had the necessary skills and resources.  Many children in the district were not getting into mainstream schools and the Department of Education was not taking responsibility for placing those children.  Negative attitudes and a lack of personnel made it hard to provide optimal education for children with disabilities.

Such examples showed that the gap between what had been promulgated nationally and implemented locally was large, he said.  To address that, “we need to address the key barriers to inclusive education,” he said, noting the lack of awareness, resources, political will, teaching materials, support from teachers, and understanding of legal frameworks.  Making progress meant that those barriers had to be urgently addressed.

Ms. PELAEZ said that inclusive education meant opening up education to people with differences; not just accepting differences, but going beyond the ideas of special education and moving towards the inclusive model.  It was a question of the individual needs that each and every person had, considering their inherent dignity and autonomy and ensuring free choice on the part of a person with disability and their parents.  Revision of existing laws was needed for policy changes for those purposes.  Teachers and other professionals must get the necessary training for the change in paradigm from special education to inclusive education that recognized diversity and provided equal opportunity. 

As part of inclusive education, students with disabilities must benefit from any scholarships and other programmes offered, she said.  Universal access must not only apply to facilities, but to educational materials as well, including materials available through new technologies.  Gender differences also needed to be addressed in the disability context.  Negative attitudes and policy barriers must be addressed as well, particularly in regard to reaching rural areas.  In promoting inclusive education, the United Nations should ensure that States parties to the Convention receive the necessary support for quality inclusive education, prioritizing the difficulties of girls in that context.

Second Round Table Discussion

The second round table discussion on “Inclusion and Living in the Community”, moderated by Adam Kosa (Hungary), included presentations by:  Mohammed Al Tarawneh, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Steven M. Eidelman, University of Delaware; and Senada Halilcevic, Inclusion Europe.

Opening the panel, Mr. KOSA discussed the implementation of article 19 in Hungary, saying “we have a long way to go”.  In recent years, huge institutions, instead of being dismantled, had been “redecorated” with limited resources.  However, this summer, a new Government assumed office and was committed to the policy of deinstitutionalization, in line with the European Commission’s mandates.  The Convention was a milestone in international law, the first United Nations Convention of the twenty-first century on human rights.

The European Council had adopted the Convention last November, but all key players had much more to do, both at the European Union level and that of individual Member States.  “The work that we will do together can provide a new model for [non-governmental organizations] and Government cooperation,” he said.  There were some discrepancies between the European Union Charter and the Convention, and it was clear that the Union would have to be innovative in order to maintain an open society.  “We face an imminent real challenge of an ageing society,” he said, which also could present opportunities for people with disabilities.

Speaking first, Mr. TARAWANEH said article 19 recognized two fundamental rights:  to live and take part in the community, and the corresponding right to choose how a person wished to live and take part in that community.  Those rights were very often denied to persons with disabilities, who often were forced against their will to live in institutions of care.  In 1999, the United States Supreme Court held that unjustified segregation in institutions constituted discrimination.  Indeed, there was little difference between persons in those situations and ordinary zoo animals.

It was only by combining the right to choose with the creation of favourable conditions to realize that right that the self-determination of persons with disabilities could be attained, he said.  Social services must be tailored to the needs of different persons with disabilities and they must be affordable.  In-home assistance was among those services to which disabled persons were entitled.  In choosing the type of services to provide, emphasis should be placed not on the disability, per se, but on the creation of an enabling environment for disabled persons to participate in the community.  The number of cases of forced institutionalization was often proportionate to the level of denial of the rights to live in the community.

Mr. EIDELMAN said discrimination took many forms, including not having choices.  The Convention promoted community living and there were some people who needed help making choices.  Persons with disabilities had the right to choose their place of residence and with whom they lived, equally.  Was living in the community in and of itself sufficient?  The answer was no, as one could still be isolated in a communal setting, and the Convention could help move a person from isolation to participation.

Discussing institutions, he said they denied disabled persons access to larger society.  They were places where people were labelled as having a disability and were compelled to live together.  People were institutionalized for many reasons, notably a lack of resources.  There were many examples of institutions, including orphanages, hostels, residential schools, or any setting that served to separate people from their communities.  “Yet we’re still promoting institutions which are a very outdated model,” he stressed.

The ideal planning tool for community inclusion was “person-centred” planning.  “You can’t be part of the community while institutionalized,” he said, urging States to close institutions, and build community capacity and schools for all children.  “We must prepare for a second order of deinstitutionalization.”  The Convention was about the rights of people with disabilities, not the rights of organizations, and States must learn how to market “community inclusion”.  States Parties must work with their foreign aid programmes to ensure that they were not funding segregation.

Rounding out the panel, Ms. HALILCEVIC said she had spent most of her childhood in institutions, from elementary to high school.  After graduating from high school, she returned to her family, but because she could not find a job and her family situation had grown more difficult, she returned to the institution.  While there, she observed how people lived in a community, wondering why she could not live as they did.  “Young people in the community socialized” and attended school and work, she said.  “I couldn’t do that.”  She had been told by the institution’s staff that she did not have to worry about anything, but all she wanted was to live like others.

She said she started gathering information about how to leave the institution and discovered an association that promoted inclusion in Zagreb.  With the help of a social worker, she arranged a meeting.  She had been living in a community for over three years now and, while it had been difficult at the start, today she had minimal support for housekeeping and was able to decide what type of support she needed.  “I live like all other people,” she said.  “I feel useful because, for the first time, I contribute to the community in which I live and work”.

As a self-advocate in the Association for Self-Advocacy in Zagreb, she advocated for all people with disabilities to become equal members of their societies.  Every person should have the possibility to decide about his or her own life.  Though many countries had ratified the Convention, it still had not been implemented.  Self-advocates wanted that to happen as soon as possible.  “My real life began the day I left the institution,” she said.

When the floor was opened to questions and comments on the two round tables, delegates reaffirmed their commitment to the Convention and outlined national initiatives taken to adhere specifically to articles 24 (education) and 19 (living independently and being included in the community).

In the area of education, Brazil’s delegate recalled the importance of articles 21, 24.3 and 30.3, which gave clear mandate on what concerned intellectual property rights.  National copyright legislation often prevented persons with reading disabilities from accessing works protected by copyright in accessible formats.  Indeed, less than 5 per cent of published works were available in accessible formats like Braille and audio books.  He urged States parties and civil society to quickly reach agreement on those issues. 

In the area of living independently, Canada’s delegate said persons with disabilities often faced institutionalization.  Geographically bundling support services obliged them to live in segregated settings.  She welcomed views on how those living in rural areas could access services, either within or close to those communities.

Speaking more generally, Jamaica’s representative, noting that his country had been the first to ratify the Convention, pointed out that the University of the West Indies had established a centre for disability studies and was developing a Global Disability Index to track States’ progress in implementing the Convention.  It would rank States in a similar manner to the Human Development Index.  He wondered if there were efforts to link international development assistance to the mainstreaming of support for disabled persons.

Thailand’s delegate said that the term “inclusion” should stress the need for diversity and tolerance.  Applying that in the area of education, he said education systems should tolerate various kinds of services, including integrated and specialized services.  The diverse needs of individuals must be respected, accepted and accommodated.

In the short time allotted for responses, Ms. PELAEZ focused on how to convert special schools into inclusive schools.  In fact, the challenge was to transform inclusive schools into “educational resource” centres that could work with families.  Children pursuing special education courses could move to an inclusive education system if existing schools could be turned into the desired centres.

On other matters, she said any programme related to international cooperation in education must adhere to the Convention and she echoed calls for its correct application.  The impact of international cooperation strategies would be undermined unless special funding was devoted to achieving inclusive education policies for disabled persons.

For his part, Mr. CHALKLEN, speaking generally, said that to overcome barriers, massive awareness-raising was needed.  Teachers in special schools often resisted the idea of inclusive education, citing variance in pay.  Governments were obliged to ensure that legal frameworks in the area of education were understood.

A Secretariat representative expressed her gratitude for the input provided by States parties and others, saying the Secretariat would like to work with interested parties to improve the compilation of experiences and to make that knowledge available on its website.

Wrapping up the discussion, Co-Chair Prince RA’AD provided highlights from round table on education and conveyed his appreciation to panellists, as well as to his Co-Chair and Secretariat staff.

Co-Chair Mr. KOSA provided highlights from the round table on community living, expressing hope that in the next year, representatives would solidify their efforts to pressure their Governments for the benefit of disabled people.

Co-Chair Ms. SIBIYA said all were honour bound to return home and implement the Convention for the benefit of persons with disabilities.  Best practices from countries could be instructive and should be shared.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.