“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”
– Article 26, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations
Such a simple statement, isn’t it? Education is and should always be a universal human right. It affords us opportunity, enrichment, socialization, and self-empowerment. Societies across the globe, however, have always struggled with one concept: inclusion. Similar to computers, the human brain operates by and large by discrimination. Not discrimination in the social sense per se (although that’s an entirely separate topic which could be discussed for days), but by discriminating between positive and negative, light and dark, yes and no. On a macro scale, given our propensity to differentiate between those who seem most similar to the majority and those who are different, it is not surprising that everyone from children on a playground to leaders of societies worldwide have not only identified these differences, but have acted on them in favor of those who most match their appearance, ideology, or even social status.
Physical and intellectual disability is, unfortunately no different. When faced with the decision to invest in the disabled by providing them with suitable education and accessible social infrastructure, many leaders prefer to nurture the non-disabled while the others suffer. It is fair to say that disability in many regions of the world equates to a life sentence as a marginalized member of society to whom basic human rights are not granted. A recent report by Human Rights Watch states that an estimated 500,000 children with disabilities have been rejected by the South African school system. As the clip from Human Rights Watch below shows, finding education for disabled children is an unnecessarily daunting task in many nations.
So how can this issue be solved? As you probably expected, the answer is inclusion. To do so, however, requires increased awareness on the part of not only governments worldwide, but also society as a whole of the true capital that disabled peoples worldwide have to offer. A study by Deloitte Access Economics in which the economic impact of increasing inclusion of disabled people in the workforce of Australia by 10% was modeled to result in a $40 billion increase in Australia’s GDP over the next decade, or a $43 billion increase in GDP if unemployment also decreased by 0.9%.
Interestingly, I imagine that simply informing governments of the potential financial gains that would come from empowering the disabled through education and workforce inclusion may not be a sufficient impetus for them to actually enact change. The real change, in my opinion, needs to come from the community level such that communities worldwide begin recognizing that education is a human right that should be denied to no one, especially given the immense potential that people with physical and intellectual disability have once fully empowered. This is no small task, but by changing public views of the disabled, great strides can surely be taken on the path toward universal education.