1. Historically viewed as welfare recipients, persons with disabilities are now recognized under international law as rights holders with a claim to the right to education without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the World Declaration on Education for All (1990), the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993) and the Salamanca statement and framework for action (1994) all include measures testifying to the growing awareness and understanding of the right of persons with disabilities to education.
2. Recognition of inclusion as the key to achieving the right to education has strengthened over the past 30 years and is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first legally binding instrument to contain a reference to the concept of quality inclusive education. Sustainable Development Goal 4 too affirms the value of inclusive, quality and equitable education. Inclusive education is central to achieving high-quality education for all learners, including those with disabilities, and for the development of inclusive, peaceful and fair societies. Furthermore, there is a powerful educational, social and economic case to be made. As reflected in the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the thematic study on the right of persons with disabilities to education, only inclusive education can provide both quality education and social development for persons with disabilities, and a guarantee of universality and non-discrimination in the right to education.1
3. Despite the progress achieved, however, the Committee is concerned that profound challenges persist. Many millions of persons with disabilities continue to be denied the right to education and for many more education is available only in settings where persons with disabilities are isolated from their peers and where the education they receive is of an inferior quality.
4. Barriers that impede access to inclusive education for persons with disabilities can be attributed to multiple factors, including:
- (a) The failure to understand or implement the human rights model of disability, according to which barriers within the community and society, rather than personal impairments, exclude persons with disabilities;
- (b) Persistent discrimination against persons with disabilities, compounded by the isolation of those still living in long-term residential institutions, and low expectations about those in mainstream settings, allowing prejudices and fear to escalate and remain unchallenged;
- (c) Lack of knowledge about the nature and advantages of inclusive and quality education and diversity, including regarding competitiveness, in learning for all; lack of outreach to all parents; and lack of appropriate responses to support requirements, leading to misplaced fears and stereotypes that inclusion will cause a deterioration in the quality of education or otherwise have a negative impact on others;
- (d) Lack of disaggregated data and research (both of which are necessary for accountability and programme development), which impedes the development of effective policies and interventions to promote inclusive and quality education;
- (e) Lack of political will, technical knowledge and capacity in implementing the right to inclusive education, including insufficient education of all teaching staff;
- (f) Inappropriate and inadequate funding mechanisms to provide incentives and reasonable accommodations for the inclusion of students with disabilities, interministerial coordination, support and sustainability;
- (g) Lack of legal remedies and mechanisms to claim redress for violations.
5. States parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities must have regard for the underlying general principles of the Convention in all measures taken to implement inclusive education and must ensure that both the process and outcomes of developing an inclusive education system comply with article 3.
6. The present general comment is applicable to all persons with actual or perceived disabilities.2 The Committee recognizes that some groups are more at risk of exclusion from education than others, such as: persons with intellectual disabilities or multiple disabilities, persons who are deafblind, persons with autism or persons with disabilities in humanitarian emergencies.
7. Consistent with article 4 (3), States parties must consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations, in all aspects of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of inclusive education policies. Persons with disabilities and, when appropriate, their families, must be recognized as partners and not merely recipients of education.
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