PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Going to school is difficult enough, but having an unaccommodated physical or cognitive disability might make it nearly impossible. Various international human rights treaties and conventions have committed themselves to battling discrimination and upholding the right to education for every child. Yet, the literacy rate for people with disabilities is only 3% worldwide, and an even lower 1% for women.
According to statistical estimation, people with disabilities compile 10% of the world’s total population, making it the largest minority by far. This incorporates a vast range of disabilities, such as physical, emotional, cognitive, social, learning, speech, and sensory. Although they are common globally, 80% of all disabilities are isolated to citizens of developing nations, usually those living below the poverty line.
Poverty and disability tend to coincide. It is speculated that the number of people living with a disability is actually much higher than reported, since lack of proper healthcare means they often pass through the system undiagnosed or untreated. Additionally, features of meager living conditions, such as malnutrition and poor sanitation, increase the chance of developing a disability and aggravate those that are pre-existing.
Impoverished children are disproportionately affected in developing nations, more so than any other sector of the population. Estimates claim that 30% of children living on the streets are also disabled, and that their disability is a contributing factor to their living situation. Frequent warfare significantly increases the number of young adults and children inflicted, as they are at an especially high risk of involvement leading to traumatic, and potentially permanent, injury.
Access to education is already unfairly limited for children in poverty, but having a disability can make the barriers even more significant. Universally, children with disabilities are significantly more likely to drop out, due to an absence of support from education systems to make their schools welcoming and accessible for all. However, assistive programs and policies are even less available for schools with limited financial capacity, preventing them from serving their students to the highest degree.
Often, the solutions are easily achievable. Subsidized public transportation for children who cannot walk to school, glasses for those who cannot see the boards, and hiring teachers trained in special education could assist millions in obtaining a quality education.
A large part of the problem is simply awareness. In most developing countries, there is not much data concerning the disabled population, and much less on childhood education. Even if the information is present, there still remains the issue of limited funding to allow for the implementation of specially designed programs and facilities.
Cambodia is one country leading the way in the direction of disability awareness. As a result of a 2010 study, the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport is now demanding eyesight testing in schools for all 1st graders.
Designating funds heavily in the direction of children with disabilities, and research regarding their specific needs in the classroom, is an important means to adequately counter the educational obstacles they face. Cambodia proves that keeping the disabled population in mind is a successful way to achieve the goal of education for all.
– Stefanie Doucette