Disability inclusive education

Sif Holst
Posted March 8, 2018 from Denmark
Making my speech on disability inclusive education

Dear sisters, I want to share something, very close to my heart. Today I was invited to speak about disability inclusive education at the Danish Parliament, at a debate on fighting exclusion arranged by IBIS and hosted by a Danish MP. I felt blessed to be surrounded by accomplished, strong women all dedicating their lives to fighting for this cause. I want to share my speech. I want to share my hope that future all young girls (and boys) will have the chance to get an education - even if they have a disability. Lots of love Sif

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Disability inclusive education and working with local organisations

I know a woman, Florence, she lives in Uganda and she is brilliant. She has studied law and she can nail any man, or woman, with her sharp wit. Her sense of humor makes me chuckle, even though it is many years since I last talked to her. And she is completely blind.

It is just over 10 years since I met her, on a visit to form an umbrella organization for youth with disabilities in Uganda. It was unusual that a woman, especially a woman with a severe disability, was so well-educated. But we were young and full of hope and were sure, that we were well on the way to a future where all the young girls, with or without disabilities, could become like her. Not all lawyers, but girls, and boys, achieving their dreams and doing what they love, in spite of being born with or having developed a disability.

And yet, 10 years later, in a report from December 2017 from Global Partnership for Education and The World Bank, it becomes clear that the education gap between people with and without disabilities is just increasing. In general, more young girls and boys are getting an education, but those with disabilities are falling behind. The gap is increasing when it comes literacy, to school enrolment, completing primary school and completing secondary level. Children with disabilities are left behind by global efforts to improve education for all.

We need to do better. We need to provide access to schools for children with disabilities, we need to increase the understanding of their needs, we need trained teachers, adequate facilities, classroom support and learning resources.   

We are encouraged to do better by the Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) and by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the CRPD). The SDGs call for inclusive and equitable education, with the aim of ensuring equal access to all levels of education for the vulnerable, including children with disabilities. And they call for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and also provide safe, inclusive and effective learning environments. The CRPD states that persons with disabilities have the same right to education as all others.

In order to live up to the CRPD-convention and the SDGs. In order to fulfill dreams and give hope, we need to acknowledge that: - Inclusive education is important for the participation and development of the individual child, both in and outside school - For some children assistive devices can determine the difference between being included or excluded - The general programs and policies of international organisations, national governments, and local authorities should be inclusive and welcome all children both in schools and in informal education.

These are our guiding principles, in the Disabled Peoples Organisations Denmark (DPOD). We work to achieve this. We work to achieve this in Denmark, on the European Level, on the UN level and most importantly we work with our sister organisations around the world.

And I would like to share how the National Union of Disability Organisations in Rwanda (NUDOR) work to achieve inclusive education with the support from DPOD.

In the beginning NUDOR focused on duty-bearers and service-providers in order to promote inclusive education, but it soon became evident that this was insufficient. So NUDOR began expanding the focus. Mobilizing support from the local community in order to change the attitude towards the schooling of children with disabilities. In 2016 NUDOR conducted 24 awareness campaigns on children’s right to education, targeting district authorities, local leaders, school leaders, persons with disabilities, parents of children and youth with disabilities and the local community at large. NUDOR worked on increasing data collection and measures, on establishing collaboration with school leaders and parents, training health workers in service delivery to persons with disabilities, targeting religious leaders and training them on disability rights and inclusion.

The awareness raising campaigns have paid off. The number of children enrolled in the 15 schools targeted in the project has increased by almost 50% from 377 in 2015 to 563 in 2016.

In a more comprehensive project, supported by the Danish Guide and Scout Aid (and NUDOR and DPOD), 5 schools were selected as models, were the awareness raising were combined with a more targeted approach to barriers. Targeting physical barriers such as ramps instead of stairs, access to toilets, light within classrooms and accessibility to playgrounds. Building capacity of teachers through the aid of special need teachers displaying best practices, helping to provide practical tips, identify gaps and promote mutual learning. Painting sign language numbers and letters on the classroom walls, to encourage the learning of sign language. And those most in need assisted with special school materials, assistive devices and medicine. After a year the enrollment more than doubled from 121 children in 2016 to 301 in 2017.

And on the national level NUDOR influenced the Ministry of Education to task the local authorities to monitor enrollment and dropout rate of children including data on children of disabilities. Ensuring more focus throughout Rwanda and paving the way for future work.

This is only an example. This is only the beginning. We need to do much more and we need a development, were focusing on inclusive education, were focusing on the hope and dreams of those most vulnerable is the focus of all and not only for the few with special interest. We need to do more, and we can do more. Each and every one of us can help ensure that no one is left behind. Each and every one can make a difference for a child in need.

 

Comments 13

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Anne Dupont
Mar 08
Mar 08

Dear Sif,

Keep up the good fight! Know that you matter and that everything you do brings the goal just that much closer. I am proud of you and of your efforts to fight for disability inclusive education. It is critical!

With love,

Anne

Sif Holst
Mar 08
Mar 08

Thank you so much for the love
The best regards
Sif

Anne McCaw
Mar 08
Mar 08

Sif: thank you so much for sharing your speech, but more than that, for your determination to help those who so desperately need it. Even in wealthy countries like the U.S., parents fight like tigers to find services for their children in need. I know you will make all the difference and you can create monumental, unstoppable change.

Sif Holst
Mar 09
Mar 09

Dear Anne,
Thank you. Thank you for seeing me. When we aren't seen, we loose faith, we loose hope.
I am so grateful for any support I get.
Regards
Sif

Hello, Sif! I am a woman with a disability and I have a child with a disability. I became disabled at age 22 with a rare sudden onset of muscular dystrophy. My first daughter was born with severe autism. There is so much work to be done here in the United States in regards to disability. I truly admire your commitment and integrity. I can't imagine all the things you go through and are up against (well i can, but you know what i mean). I'm so thankful that people like you are willing to dedicate their lives to bringing awareness and working to make real progress. I would love to hear more about what you do! Thanks for sharing! xx

Renee

Sif Holst
Mar 10
Mar 10

Dear Jennifer,
So great to hear from you. I suffer from a rare connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos and from fibromyalgia. I am also a cancer survivor (thyroid cancer).
In Denmark the muscular dystrophy organisation is among the strongest of our disability organisations, the Autism organisation is also great a raising awareness about especially the difficulties the inclusion of children with autism in the schools.
But also in Denmark there is much work to do in regards to disabilities. And we also suffer from severy cuts in a number of areas.
And thanks for "listening"
Regards
Sif

I honor you, Sif, for unleashing your fullest potential, and not allowing your physical state to limit you.

I am encouraged with what you are doing and for lobbying inclusion education for all. I like how you said it in your speech, " Help ensure that no one is left behind".

Your advocacy hits home because my son has special needs (Global Developmental Delay). I wonder if cases like his and those with autism and others with cognitive disorders are included in the category of child with disability, or are you only referring to children with physical ability?

Thank you for spearheading this advocacy. Please continue to update us with what you do.

Sif Holst
Mar 10
Mar 10

Dear Karen,
What a beautiful last name you have.
Autism and others with cognitive disorders are included in this catagory. And I think, that all over the world, this group of children and youth with disabilities are among the most vulnerable, especially when it comes to access to education. In the developing countries, they are often completely excluded due to fear and stigma that surrounds them. And in countries like my own, Denmark, authorities are very hesitant to grant special needs education and for many it is very challenging to get the proper support in many public schools, so many suffer severely.
In Denmark a special NEST-program has been set up in a public school in the city of Aarhus and we try to advocate for it, whenever possible. The programme is originally developed in New York, it focuses on the layout of the classroom (including visual support), uses teaching techniques developed for children with autism and the class is small (16 children, 4 with cognitive disabilities such as Autism). And all the children thrive.
The main philosophy is "If the children do not learn the way we teach them, then we have to teach them the way they learn" and "Children are more alike than different and should learn and develop together".
You can read about the project in English here: https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/asdnest/about/aarhus
We need special school for those most severely affected, but wouldn't it be great if our children could thrive and learn in an included environment?
And thank you to much for your comments and praise
Regards
Sif

Mar 10
Mar 10
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Clodine Mbuli Shei
Mar 10
Mar 10

Dear Sif,
This is such a wonderful and emotional write up. Big thank you for the work you do and your passion in enhancing disability inclusive development. Inclusive education is very important in achieving sustainable development for education is a powerful tool for nation transformation. I have worked as the gender Officer for the Socio economic empowerment of Persons with disabilities program funded by CBM Australia and am so passionate about enhancing gender and disability inclusion. Courage sister

Sif Holst
Mar 10
Mar 10

Dear Clodine,
I am so glad to hear about the work you have done - and to learn of your passion. Everyone of us who are passionate about this area, is a blessing.
Courage to you too

YLLANG Montenegro
Oct 24
Oct 24

Hi Sif,
Thanks for sharing so much information about your advocacy on disability awareness. For sure everyday is a battle that we need to fight, and everything that you do is worth fighting for :) congrats to your amazing work ♡

Sif Holst
Oct 25
Oct 25

Thank you so much