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Action is needed to ensure education for all

Disabled schoolchild playing with friends, India

Rotary Club of Nagpur under a Creative Commons Licence

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a world without school…

...it’s impossible, isn’t it? Every one of us has memories of our childhood in which school plays a large part – whether in the classroom or in the playground. Every child across the world should, like us, be able to go to school, yet for many children with disabilities it is a distant dream.

We should be ashamed that 16 million disabled children worldwide are still out of school. This week I am calling on the United Nations General Assembly to take immediate action to put this right.

Just think for a moment what a life without school for any child would be like – a life without learning to read or write, a life without school friends, and a life without hope of finding a job.

Leonard Cheshire Disability is at the UN to influence world leaders to recognize the potential of all our children to succeed through education. Until this is achieved, millions of young disabled people will continue to be denied a chance. And that is simply not fair.

When the world came together to agree the Millennium Development Goals back in 2000, there was no mention of disability. Disabled people were simply forgotten. This week at the UN, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put this right. As the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals approaches, world leaders are coming together to debate a new framework for combating world poverty.

On Monday, I attended a meeting of the UN General Assembly where world leaders pledged to work together to make sure that people with disabilities are included this time round. As Lynne Featherstone, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development writes in the Huffington Post, this is a watershed moment for disability.

But this is only half the story. Talk is cheap. The real test of our commitment will be action on the ground.

At Leonard Cheshire Disability we want to make sure that education for people with disabilities is a priority in the new development framework. We have welcomed the UK government’s pledge that all schools they fund in developing countries will be accessible for children with disabilities. In our policy briefing for the UN, ‘Leave No-one Behind’, we are calling on all governments to take action to ensure that disabled children are included in their schools. To ensure that the buildings are accessible, the school bus is accessible, the textbooks are accessible and, most important, the teachers are trained to include every child in every lesson. In short, to ensure that action on the ground matches the fine words of the leaders at the UN.  

I’ve been privileged to be joined in New York by Leonard Cheshire Disability Young Voices campaigner Ashwini Angadi. She has travelled from India to tell the world her story about the difference an education can make. Ashwini, who is visually impaired, has spoken eloquently about the discrimination she has faced because of her disability and how no schools or colleges allowed her to get an education.

Ashwini returns to New York following the Youth Courage Award for Education she received from Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Education, in July. Ashwini is co-chairing a new Youth Education Crisis Committee set up by Gordon Brown, alongside renowned education campaigner Malala Youfsazai. The Committee will lead the call of young people around the world for a robust and urgent response to the education crisis, starting with the one million Syrian refugee children.  

In many parts of the developing world only two per cent of disabled children have access to education. That means that for 98 per cent it is only a dream. Let’s all work together to make that dream a reality and ensure that in future girls like Ashwini can go to school.

Clare Pelham
Clare Pelham is Chief Exeutive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, which has one of the world’s largest networks wholly dedicated to supporting people with disabilities, working in 55 countries. We have supported over 10,000 children into school and over 10,000 into employment. We have over 1,200 Leonard Cheshire Young Voices members. 

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