GARDEN ROUTE NEWS - Have you noticed that beginning-of-year media reports about children either going to "big school" or not getting place in a school don't mention children with disabilities?
November is celebrated globally as Disability Awareness Month, and the Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities (APD) is using this month to advocate inclusivity for children with disabilities.
"Does their education not matter as much as other children's?" asks Glen Fortuin of the George APD. "Or have we convinced ourselves, in our ignorance, that they have their own schools with children 'just like them' and therefore don't belong with 'normal' children? That the first day of school for such a child isn't a joyous occasion but rather the beginning of a long road of struggle and suffering for the child's parents?"
Fortuin writes that disability is traditionally seen as a welfare issue instead of what it actually is - a human rights issue.
By law (Chapter 2 of the SA Constitution, the Bill of Rights, section 9.3), children with disabilities would be able to attend "normal" schools instead of having to go to specialised schools or, even worse, stay at home without getting an education.
Chapter 2 of the SA Constitution, the Bill of Rights, says: "The state [A person] may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender…….. disability ……". Section 29.1 states: "Everyone has the right to (a) a basic education, …..; and (b) further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible."
Parliament approved the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2015. It commits the state to "establishing a system to identify children with disabilities of compulsory school-going age who are out of school" by 2019, and enforcing the enrolment of 100% of these children by 2030.
While this is a tall order, Fortuin says, it can be done. "Many children with disabilities are able to function in a typical school environment with certain accommodations. These accommodations are not to be seen as a burden on the school but rather as the means of allowing the child to participate in and enjoy an education that is on a par with other children, thereby granting the child an equal education with resultant equal opportunities for further education and employment."
The APD does recognise that there are certainly children whose impairment is so severe that they are unable to cope in the school environment without additional assistance from the educator. These are the children who will need to attend a special needs school, where their required level of support may be provided, says Fortuin.
"How wonderful it would be if we no longer looked at our 'sameness', but rather how we differ from each other, when we celebrate our differences and acknowledge that one person's strengths may support another's limitation; when we look past what we see as a weakness and see the human being!"
The values and principles of inclusive education underpin the APD's work in helping children with disabilities and their parents to access this right.
"Children with disabilities should, as far as possible, receive the support they need to learn and progress in their local ECD centres and ordinary school together with other children from their neighbourhood. The APD believes that building an inclusive education system will ultimately help build an inclusive society."
The George Association for Persons with Disabilities promotes access to education through: lobbying and advocating; walking a journey with parents, empowering them with knowledge of their children's right to education whilst supporting them in their efforts to access this right; collaborating with key stakeholders as they strive to make this right a reality for as many children with disabilities as possible.
For some children who have exceptionally high support needs (especially those living in rural areas), access to mainstream or even special schools is just not feasible. These children must not be denied their right to education. George APD's Optima Special Day care centre provides education opportunities for these children.
Early stimulation and development activities and the opportunity to play and form friendships with peers are vital for all children in order for them to flourish and grow. For children with severe and profound disabilities, these opportunities are often very limited.
In such instances, children can attend our special care centres where our trained and committed staff facilitate daily stimulation and learning programmes tailored to children's development needs.
Ultimately, we shouldn't include others because the law says we should, but because it is the right thing, the human thing, to do.
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