Displaced children with disabilities face overlapping barriers

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Date: 3 Dec GEM Report | Story Source: GEM Report (World Education Blog) ~ Go to Original Article

The 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report launched two weeks ago, focuses on migration and displacement. In discussing displaced people with disabilities, it begins with a premise established by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilitiesthat having an impairment does not in itself create disability; rather, it’s society’s failure to accommodate and assist that ‘disables’.

For refugee children living with a disability torn from their homes, the lack of assistance in their new environments is particularly stark.

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A relative pushes John’s wheelchair through the dirt parths of protection of civilians Camp 3 in Juba. The uneven paths make it difficult for people with physical disabilities to move around the camps. Credit: 2017 Joe Van Eeckhout for Human Rights Watch

The Report emphasizes the need for more data to help governments facilitate the integration of refugees living with a disability. The lack of data, coupled with the use of outmoded methods for measuring disability gives a distorted picture of the scale and nature of the issue.

The monolithic concept of ‘disability’ is unhelpful for monitoring and designing responses. Needs vary dramatically according to the type of disability people have. A survey from Pakistan shows that refugees with difficulties seeing were most likely to attend school (52%), while those with self-care difficulties were the least likely (7.5%).

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School attendance rate of young Afghan refugees aged 5-18 years, Pakistan, 2011

A child with a disability cannot manage a difficult journey down a long dirt road or up several flights of stairs to his/her classroom on a daily basis. Yet schools attended by refugees are often make-shift or hard to reach – whether they are located in camps or in cities.

While in their home countries, children may have had access to free transport to take them to school, such facilities are rare in a refugee environment. The loss of computers and other technological tools which enabled and empowered children with disabilities back home can also be life-changing. Out Report cites the example of a Syrian refugee boy who was badly affected by the loss of the computer he used to communicate with, learn with and play games on.

The quality of education suffers across the board in situations of displacement, with teachers often citing a lack of training to cope with their new classroom environments. Training is even rarer for teachers on how to support students with a disability. Many are not even trained teachers, but low-paid workers or volunteers employed by NGOs. Refugee families may keep their disabled children out of school if fees are charged, prioritizing the needs of their able-bodied siblings. They may also hide their children’s’ disabilities due to social stigma, fear of rejection by immigration or government authorities. Evidence showed that among disabled refugee children, girls, adolescents, older people and ethnic and linguistic minorities suffered the most due to overlapping disadvantages.

The Report’s findings show that two fundamental changes in refugee contexts will help us surmount the barriers to inclusion for disabled refugees. One of these is political will. Uganda is praised for targeting funding for vocational training and income generation at disabled refugees, although such funding must be long-term in order to bring about real change.

The other is the vital need to make local disability groups aware of the presence and the needs of disabled refugees. This lack of awareness, along with linguistic barriers, can mean disabled refugees miss out on local NGO support and advocacy. Refugees in Uganda have benefitted from the dialogue between local disabled persons organizations and the refugee and development agencies present in the country. This dialogue not only improves conditions but teaches the affected refugees self-advocacy and helps raise their awareness of their own rights.

Building on the momentum by the 25th year anniversary of the 1994 Salamanca Statement on inclusive education, the 2020 GEM Report on inclusion will examine how overlapping disadvantage affects a wide range of vulnerable children around the world. It will explore the exclusion from education of many groups, including children in conflict environments, nomads and children in remote rural areas and ethnic and linguistic minorities, but disability will be examined in the greatest detail. Read the concept note and the now-closed consultation, which has already seen around 5,000 visitors and received over 150 comments online and by email.


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