Education is the ‘magic key’ for disability rights

Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike recently raced in a RESULTS T-shirtToday is the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. For several years, RESULTS has been campaigning for the rights of disabled children to access education around the world. We’re currently in an appalling situation: of the 67 million primary aged children in the world who are not in school, over one third live with a disability, and over 90% of disabled children in sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school. Exclusion from education all too often leads to exclusion from the workforce, so disabled people around the world are massively more likely than non-disabled people to be living in extreme poverty. Our failure to educate disabled children in the world’s poorest countries is a violation of human rights that quite literally kills.

But there is a positive side as well. When disabled people are able to access their fundamental right to education, the benefits for society can be enormous. Just take the example of Anne Wafula Strike, a British-Kenyan Paralympian athlete who was the first East African to ever compete in a wheelchair sprint at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004. Anne grew up doubly disadvantaged, as a disabled girl in rural Kenya, but she has gone on to achieve more than most of us can imagine as a mother, teacher, author and athlete. Anne puts her success down to the fact that her supportive father pushed her to stick with education, even when things were so difficult – even the toilets at Anne’s school were inaccessible for her – that she wanted to quit.

Anne speaks at the parliamentary meeting on Tuesday

Anne speaks at the parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, photo by Mark Chilvers

On Tuesday this week RESULTS worked with the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Global Education for All and on Disability, and a group of other charities who work on inclusive education including ADD International and Sightsavers, to bring Anne in front of a group of MPs and Lords in the House of Commons. The meeting was chaired by Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, Vice-Chair of the APPG on Global Education for All and attendees included Chris Holmes, the Director of the 2012 Paralympic Games. Anne’s inspirational story helped to inform and educate the parliamentarians and other attendees about how the UK Government could help to ensure that all disabled children are able to access education.

In fact, the UK along with the rest of the international community is already committed to this goal, as it is enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals: MDG 2 commits us to ensure that all children are able to complete a primary education by 2015 – all children, not all except those living with disability. But far too little is still being done to meet this aim.

Anne with Chris Holmes, Director of the 2012 Paralympics, at Tuesday's event

Anne with Chris Holmes, Director of the 2012 Paralympics, at Tuesday's event, photo by Mark Chilvers

There are good initiatives out there: for example the UK Department for International Development in Uganda is currently supporting the Ugandan Government to carry out a detailed mapping of special needs education provision, but we’re a very long way from systematically addressing this issue on the scale that is needed to reach the millions of excluded disabled kids. Many of the MPs who were present on Tuesday have committed to raise this issue with the Government and ask for more action to be taken, and we are hopeful that we are starting to see some changes.

As Anne said on Tuesday, ‘education was the magic key that opened doors for me…When I was growing up and even still today, I did not want sympathy, I wanted opportunity. I wanted to be given the opportunity to prove what I can do for the community, and I know this is what many other disabled people want as well.’ Today, please join the effort to make this happen. For more information about how you can help, contact the RESULTS office.

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