UNITED NATIONS – An expert panel of educators and disability advocates came together at U.N. headquarters today to explore global strategies for educating children and young adults with multiple disabilities and deafblindness.
Hosted by Perkins International, the panel discussion was an official side-event to the 10th session of the Conference of States Parties to the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Perkins President and CEO Dave Power served as moderator. The following is a summary of the proceedings.
Dave Power: Education is a human right. So why do 6 million children and young adults with multiple disabilities and visual impairment have no access to education?
H.E. Juan José Gómez Camacho, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the U.N.: Education is a human right, no question. One of the big challenges we have in the world is the issue of marginalization, when different groups are being left behind. Human capital is the most precious resource any community has. So when countries deny educational opportunities to children with disabilities, they are depriving themselves of thriving and contributing members of their society.
Power: What are the challenges of delivering a quality education to these children?
Michael Delaney, Executive Director of Perkins International: We need government support and we need sustainable training solutions for special educators working around the world. Teachers are on the frontlines of this issue, but they often lack specific knowledge and skills to offer children with multiple disabilities a quality education. For that reason we are launching Perkins International Academy with the goal of training one million teachers by 2030.
Maricar Marquez, Supervisor of Independent Living, Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults: There is a lack of resources in many countries. And there remains a culture of stigma associated with people with disabilities that must be confronted. It is a myth that individuals with disabilities cannot learn. We can overcome this in part by sharing positive stories of individuals with disabilities who are successful and productive.
Power: What steps can governments take to make this a priority?
Rosanne K. Silberman, Ed.D, Professor Emeritus of Special Education, Hunter College: It all comes back to teacher training. There is a real shortage of teacher training programs across the world. We need parents and individuals with disabilities to come to the fore and alert governments about this urgent need. Because when other priorities take precedent, these children and their families are left behind.
Gomez Camacho: We must create awareness among decision makers, but also society at large because decision makers react to social demand. When we begin demanding quality education programs for all, when parents stand up, that’s when things will begin to change.
Power: How can we get countries to take the first step?
Delaney: By offering sustainable, scalable solutions to the problem. It’s time to take action and ensure these six million children and young adults receive the education they need to become active, contributing members of their communities. It’s an effort that’s gaining momentum thanks to the Sustainable Development Goals. And the need is urgent.