The image shows the “Make the Right Real in Malaysia” logo of The OKU Rights Matter website and a girl with cerebral palsy responding with delight at the colourful circular foam result of her science experiment.

Access and Right to Education

Even trees need a friend. We all need friends. It all happens automatically. We want to use a lot pressure while using no pressure at all.

Access and Right to Education

Persons with disabilities, from young to old, are systematically excluded from education at all levels, including early childhood education, primary education, secondary education, tertiary education, vocational training and education, adult learning.

Even when persons with disabilities can access education, they are more likely to be excluded from general education systems and placed in special education systems.

Data from around the world shows that many children with disabilities are not enrolled in schools. Many children with disabilities who are enrolled in schools do not complete either primary or secondary education. Also, children with disabilities are more likely to learn much less than their same age peers in school.

Persons with disabilities face many barriers to accessing and completing education, including:

  • Lack of provision of necessary learning support or reasonable accommodation in school, including usage of alternative communication methods instead of speech, and allowing student to type instead of handwriting.
  • Poor attitude towards disability among the school community, including parents of students without disabilities.
  • Stigma and prejudice against the capabilities of learners with disabilities.
  • Lack of flexible approach to curriculum instruction and attainment.
  • Teaching and learning methods that do not accommodate the specific needs of learners with disabilities.
  • Disproportionate (unequal) referrals of “challenging behaviour” against students with disabilities.
  • Risk of school violence and bullying.
  • Lack of accessible physical environment in school, including accessible and clean toilets for girls with disabilities.
  • Lack of accessible and safe transport to school.

Historically, education for children with disabilities is designed to normalise them, because the society values ‘normality’ and ‘conformity’, and views disability as a deficit that needs to be ‘normalised.’

Thus, all resources in educating children with disabilities are aimed at teaching and “training” them to learn, behave and interact with others in similar ways as people without disabilities.

Therefore, it is not surprising that children with disabilities struggle to cope in an education system which is not designed for them in the first place. Ironically, persons with disabilities are the ones being punished for the failure of the education system to accommodate their differences and needs.

Education systems around the world need a total transformation so that the right to education for all persons with disabilities is realised. The transformation needs to be guided by a strong focus on eliminating ableism and discriminatory practices in education in all aspects, i.e.: 

  • Funding
  • Teacher training and recruitment
  • School leadership
  • School culture and education philosophy
  • School and teacher performance indicators or monitoring systems
  • Learning goals and curriculum standards
  • Instructional methods
  • Lesson and school activity planning
  • Individualised Education Plan (IEP)
  • Discipline referral policy
  • Student support system, such as provision of reasonable accommodations for learning, and disability-inclusive mental health support
  • Accessibility of schools’ physical environment
  • Information and communication accessibility
  • Student enrolment
  • Student assessment, evaluation and examinations

*Note: Resources linked are in English and pdf or webpage format, unless stated otherwise.

International Commitments and Frameworks

Article 24 – Education in UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education 


Right to Education of Persons with Disabilities by Right to Education Initiative

Eliminating Ableism in Education by Thomas Hehir

What’s So “Special”? Disability Segregation in Education by Catia Malaquias, Starting With Julius

The Systematic Exclusion of Students With Disabilities at End-of-School-Year Events by Ellen Stumbo

Disabled children still face exclusion in PE – here’s what needs to change by Tom Gibbons & Kevin Dixon

Research and Study Reports

Thematic study on the right of persons with disabilities to education, report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Disability Gaps in Educational Attainment and Literacy, The Price of Exclusion: Disability and Education Notes Series by Chata Male & Quentin Wodon