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Albinism OHCHR WBU/ICEVI March 20, 2015 submission

World Blind Union (WBU) and International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI)’s  
Joint Submission to the UNCRPD Committee on the Education of Persons with Disabilities for a Day of General Discussion Leading to General Recommendation.

Date: March 2015

The World Blind Union (WBU) is a global organisation that represents the worldwide community of 285 million blind and partially sighted persons. “We envision a community where people who are blind or partially sighted are empowered to participate on an equal basis in any aspect of life they choose”. We have been working for more than three decades to make a significant difference in the lives of millions of Blind/Partially sighted persons through our work in the areas of Representation, Capacity Building, Resource Sharing and Accessibility which includes our efforts to influence the policies and regulations of the UN and other international agencies to reflect the needs and views of blind and partially sighted persons. WBU operates through six regional unions which are comprised of organizations of and for the blind in some 190 countries.   
The WBU is one of the key, active and founding members of the International Disability Alliance and also has consultative status with UN ECOSOC, World Bank, WHO and a number of other relevant UN and international agencies. 

International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI): The International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI) was founded in 1952. It is a global association of individuals and organizations that promotes equal access to appropriate education for all visually impaired children and youth so that they may achieve their full potential. ICEVI is a membership organisation that brings together non-governmental organisations of and for the blind and individuals from across the world to facilitate the education of all children with visual impairment. The ICEVI presence spans across seven regions including, Africa, West Asia, East Asia, Europe, Pacific, North America/Caribbean and Latin America. Currently, more than 4000 individuals and organizations in over 180 countries are actively involved in ICEVI. ICEVI works closely with International Non-Governmental Development Organizations (INGDOs) and UN bodies such as United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN-ECOSOC), UNESCO, UNICEF, and WHO.

The Education for All Children with Visual Impairment (EFA-VI) is a global campaign and programme of the ICEVI acting in partnership with the WBU. The main aim of the EFA-VI campaign is to ensure that all girls and boys with blindness and low vision enjoy the right to education. The EFA-VI vision is to ensure that by 2020 all children with visual impairment will enrol and remain in primary education and their educational achievement will be on a par with non-disabled children. To this end the ICEVI and the WBU aim to:
build awareness among relevant global organisations of the needs of children with a disability and specifically visual impairment
Ensure that global educational organisations accord the needs of children with visual impairment a central place in their planning and delivery operations
Ensure that EFA Plans and their implementation include the needs of children with visual impairment

The WBU and ICEVI wholeheartedly welcome and sincerely appreciate the initiative of the UNCRPD committee to conduct a day of general discussion on the right to education of persons with disabilities leading to general recommendation.

Introduction:

Education is a basic and fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Education is considered to be an important means of socialization it transforms a human being into a social being, and is instrumental in improving the life situation of human beings and enhancing their livelihood opportunities. 
According to the “World report on disability-2011” by the World Bank and the World Health Organisation, there are one billion persons with disabilities worldwide, who constitutes 15% of the total global population. 80% of them live in developing countries and almost the same percentage live in extreme poverty conditions. Persons with disabilities exhibit the lowest health, education and economic outcomes. They are counted among the poorest of the poor and most excluded group in the society. There are 285 million persons with visual disabilities in the world who constitute 28.5% of the total disabled population of the world. 
Estimates for the number of children (0-14 years) living with disabilities range between 93 million and 150 million worldwide. It is estimated that there are 26,505,000 to 42,705,000 children with visual disabilities in the world who constitute 28.5% of the total population of children with disabilities in the world. Many children and adults with disabilities have historically been excluded from educational opportunities. In many countries early efforts at providing education or training were generally through separate special schools, usually targeting specific impairments, such as schools for the blind, deaf, intellectually disabled. These institutions traditionally reached only a small proportion of those in need and also necessitated a separation of children with visual disabilities from their families and communities. This separation then posed the challenge of reintegration of these children back to their families and communities. The situation began to change only when legislation started to require inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream educational systems. 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) recognizes the right of all children with disabilities both to be included in the general education systems and to receive the individual support they need. Systemic change to remove barriers and provide reasonable accommodation and support services is required to ensure that children with disabilities are not excluded from mainstream educational opportunities. Article 24 of the CRPD stresses the need for governments to ensure equal access to an "inclusive education system at all levels" and to provide reasonable accommodation and individual support services to persons with disabilities to facilitate their education. Article 24 3 )C also focuses on the education of children with sensory disabilities such as blind, deaf, deaf blind, partially sighted and others and stresses the need for specific support required for individuals on a case by case basis. The article reads as follows: “(c) Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf and deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development”. 

The Millennium Development Goal of completion of universal primary education and Education for All (EFA) strategy stresses attracting children to school and ensuring their ability to thrive in a learning environment that allows every child to develop to the best of their abilities.

Children with visual disabilities are among the most excluded group from the education system. The World Report on Disability 2011 by WB and WHO clearly articulated that education outcomes are lowest among children with sensory disabilities such as visual disability in comparison with children with physical disabilities. Less than 10% of children with visual disabilities have access to any form of education in developing countries. The general educational system generally excludes them from its mainstream education programs. A small number of children with visual disabilities study in residential special schools which results in the separation of these children from their families and communities. A few attend regular schools. Those who attend regular schools often do not receive adequate support. The lack of teachers trained to teach Braille means that children are not taught to read and write using this critical tool of communication for the blind. In addition, the lack of trained orientation and mobility instructors means that blind and partially sighted children are not taught the necessary travel skills to enable them to travel to school safely and independently. Moreover, teachers are not trained to meet the unique educational needs of children with visual disabilities. Regular schools lack appropriate and adequate teaching and learning materials such as textbooks in accessible formats such as braille, audio and large print, as well as accessible assistive devices and technology. Because regular school teachers are not taught the skills required to meet the education needs of blind and partially sighted children, the rate of enrollment and access to education of children with visual disabilities tends to be much less than for nondisabled children. As a result, both the WBU and ICEVI promotes appropriate quality education in either integrated/inclusive education programmes or, where this is appropriate for meeting the child’s particular needs, at special schools for all visually impaired children and youth so that they can achieve the best education possible and reach their full potential in life. The parents' informed choice, access to trained teachers, and the availability of essential equipment and materials are the guiding principles which will ensure high-quality education. ICEVI and WBU are conscious of the gross inequalities in educational opportunities for blind and low vision (partially sighted) children and youth, especially in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, where 90% of all children with visual impairment live and where less than 10% of these children currently have access to any type of formal or non-formal education.

According to the WBU and ICEVI, inclusive education is an approach and not a program but a dynamic process that supports and welcomes diversity amongst all learners. It is a concept of effective schools where every child has a place to study and teachers become facilitators of learning rather than providers of information. Inclusion should be the broad goal and the ways to work towards achieving it are many. 

For facilitating effective inclusive education, the following areas need utmost attention:
Preparation of general classroom teachers to adopt strategies to teach children with disabilities in general classes.  
Effective systems for the planning, development, production and distribution of support materials for facilitating inclusion on a local, regional and national level. Key issues:

Here are some additional issues related to accessing the right to education by children with visual disabilities:
Negative attitudes of family members and communities which underestimate the talents and potential of children with visual disabilities with no or low expectation;
Lack of capacity and efficiency of teachers to deal with the unique and specific educational needs and  issues such as orientation and mobility skills, braille, use of assistive devices and technology of children with visual disabilities in regular schools;
Absence of curriculum on inclusion or special education of children with visual disabilities in general teacher training courses;
Absence of appropriate institutional and policy framework at the country level to ensure the enrollment and retention of children with visual disabilities in regular schools, or failure to enforce such policies where they exist; 
Weak or non-existent early identification and intervention programs;
Insufficient empirical data on program models that are effective and sustainable;
The need to admit an increasingly wide range of children with disabilities, including the full range of visual impairments, in local schools: Policy makers need to be cognizant of the fact that children with visual impairment are not a homogeneous group. The term ‘visual impairment’, refers to a very broad spectrum of needs with different levels of complexity. Some children will have a total loss of vision and rely on tactile methods for learning; others will have low vision which may be sufficient to learn through print. Some children will have stable conditions and others may have vision which will deteriorate over time. Some children are born with a visual impairment whilst others will experience vision loss during their preschool or school years. Some children with low vision will benefit from high levels of lighting whilst others will be photophobic and require lower levels of illumination.  
The need to increase retention of children with disabilities in schools: Increased admission rates of children with disabilities into local schools do not necessarily equate to successful inclusion. Low drop-out rates can be a more useful indicator of the success of the inclusivity of a school or support program. Among the prerequisites for achieving low dropout rates in relation to children with visual impairment are: a welcoming school with a positive ethos and attitudes by all staff, parents and students to  students with a disability
Lack of textbooks  and learning material in accessible formats such as braille, large print, audio, electronic and other appropriate formats in regular schools;
Accessibility, affordability and availability of assistive devices and technology for children with visual disabilities as well as training in their use;
Negative attitudes of their peers and limited participation in extracurricular activities;
Chronic poverty of the family preventing them from spending adequate time for the education of children with visual disabilities;
Incompatible education systems such as curriculum, pedagogy and evaluation systems;
Admission of children with visual disabilities into special residential school which separate them from their families and communities and make the reintegration process difficult;

Recommendations:

On the basis of these facts and present situation related to ensuring the right to education for children with visual disabilities we make the following recommendations:

We call upon the states parties to: 
1. Promote a strong policy and institutional framework in line with Article 24 of the UNCRPD to ensure the full inclusion of children with visual disabilities in the education system;
2. Ensure that the Post 2015 sustainable development goals include specific targets and indicators for the inclusion of children with visual disabilities in the education system.
3. Undertake capacity building for the teachers of regular schools on inclusive or special education, use of assistive devices and technology and include a course on inclusive or special education in all teacher training programs;
4. Undertake massive sensitization and awareness generation programs for multiple stakeholders to bring about attitudinal changes about the right to education for children with visual disabilities;
5. Provision of text books and other learning materials in accessible formats, assistive devices  and  technology;
6. Undertake training programs in order to train specialized teachers in the unique skills of blindness such as braille and orientation and mobility;
7. Ensure that the responsibility for ensuring the right to education of children with visual disabilities lie with the ministry or department of education;
8. Promote the establishment of programs and services for blind and visually impaired children and youth with additional disabilities;
9. Promote programs and services for deafblind children through efforts at community levels, awareness raising, screening and human resource training;
10. Provide special attention to the education and literacy needs of blind and visually impaired children, youths and adults from especially vulnerable groups such as refugees and indigenous populations;
a. Acknowledge the critical importance of the pre-school years to the long-term social, emotional and educational development of blind and visually impaired children;
11. Recognize the need for the development of appropriate services for very young and preschool blind and visually impaired children;
12. Encourage the screening, early intervention and quality habilitation of blind and visually impaired children by specially trained teachers and instructors.  
13. Recommend and advocate the continued support for valued alternative forms of education, both formal and non-formal, for those who cannot benefit from an inclusive, integrated or special education program;
14. Availability of additional support to the regular classroom teachers from an advisor with specialist knowledge.
15. Successful inclusion of children with complex needs relies upon adequate support for the class teacher from a professional with specialist knowledge and understanding of those needs:  In the case of children with visual impairment this professional is most likely to be a trained specialist teacher of students with visual impairment. Their role is varied and the degree of their involvement will be determined by the age of the student, the severity of their vision loss and by the willingness of staff in the mainstream school to embrace inclusive strategies.  

For more details, contact:
Dr. Penny Hartin,
CEO, World Blind Union,

And

Dr. MNG. Mani,
CEO ICEVI
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