Education: Person with disabilities continue to be excluded

15 February 2011 - The EU wants to reduce early school leaving, as indicated in Europe 2020, the EU growth strategy for the next decade. Persons with disabilities represent 15% of the population of Member States: a focus on inclusive education and special needs would reduce school dropout rates. Nevertheless, the European Commission adopted the communication: “Tackling early school leaving” at the end of January and didn’t recommend anything about persons with disabilities. 

A major omission in the strategy was a recommendation from the disability movement to include persons with disabilities in mainstream education. Including persons with disabilities in the education system would help improve the situation and the target of EU 2020 could potentially be reached. If access to mainstream education was more accessible, the amount of students who leave school early would decrease due to the participation of persons with disabilities. It is crucial that education is provided to suit the needs of every student, for example, the allocation of special needs assistants, the accessibility of schools and university buildings or providing accessible documents.

The disability movement continues to highlight the need for regulation to fight disability discrimination in education. It would be necessary to follow the model of the employment directive for fighting discrimination on the grounds of disability.

Crucial decisions by the Members States in May

The Commission's proposals will be discussed by Education Ministers of Member States on 2-4 May in Brussels. Member States will be invited to adopt comprehensive strategies based on this framework by the end of 2012 and to implement them through their national reform programmes. It is important that the Council Recommendation includes special measures to address early school leaving of young persons with disabilities.

3 questions interview

Disability Voice interviewed Ingrid Körner, EDF Executive Member and expert on educational matters. Ingrid Körner is former President of Inclusion Europe and Member of the Board of Lebenshilfe Germany.

Disability Voice: Do persons with disabilities have access to education?

Ingrid Körner: The answer is no, not on an equal par. Access to mainstream education for children with severe disabilities is difficult. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) requires that persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability. The disability movement believes the key answer to inclusion of persons with disabilities in society is in education. People with disabilities, in particular children, need to be integrated appropriately into the general education system.

DV: What are the main consequences of early school leaving for people with disabilities?

Ingrid Körner: People with mental and physical disabilities are especially affected by early school leaving. As a consequence, they face discrimination within the education system and have more limited access to learning opportunities outside compulsory schooling. Young people with disabilities with only lower secondary education or less are more often affected by unemployment, are more likely to depend on social benefits and have a higher risk of social exclusion. It affects their lifetime earnings, well-being and health.

DV: What measures can be taken?

Ingrid Körner: Education is not a matter of EU competence; it means the EU can only give recommendations to the Members States. The Disability movement believes Persons with disabilities must access an inclusive, quality and free education on an equal basis with others. Measures should be taken to increase the number of learners with disabilities in education by improving communication, access to information, equipment and study programmes.

When meeting in May, I hope the ministries of education from all Members States will take the relevant decisions to adopt a smart strategy on education and stop early discrimination of persons with disabilities.