This article has been published in Enabling Education 9
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Title: Talking Point: Disability, inclusion and education
Author: Heijnen, E and Rieser, R
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2005

Talking point: Disability, inclusion and education

In August 2005 a meeting will take place at the United Nations in New York to discuss the Draft Convention on the ‘Promotion and Protection of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities’. Article 17 proposes that children should have the right to segregated education. This challenges the possibility of ensuring a universal right to inclusive education. The debate is intensifying! At the same time there is another debate about the need to make inclusive education a reality for all children – not just for those identified as having disabilities. Els Heijnen and Richard Rieser put forward their views….

Inclusive education is not only about disability!
Els Heijnen

Inclusive education should never be limited to looking for, or at, learners with disabilities or ‘special needs’ (which is increasingly becoming a new negative label).

It seems that in the West (where I am originally from) inclusion only deals with disability issues. Are those the only children marginalised, stereotyped, left out, excluded, from or in the system, due to lack of inclusive or responsive equal rights-based education opportunities?

I am against segregation and do not really believe in special education. But we should also realise that there may be children who do not want to be included in mainstream education and this right to choose should also be respected. It seriously worries me that we need (?) a UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities… Is that what inclusiveness is about? Is this not misplaced and segregating advocacy? Including all people, irrespective of their differences or diversity, implies that they are part of mainstream national and international laws. Should we not challenge existing conventions and help develop those into more inclusive and equal human rights based conventions – including difference and diversity in human kind?

I refuse to believe or accept that inclusive education is about disability. I have seen too many other children marginalised, stereotyped and excluded. In South Asia there are many different groups of learners excluded from the mainstream system. Or when they are ‘in’, they are not included in terms of equal rights and opportunities to participation and optimal learning.

I have worked with organisations such as UNESCO, Save the Children, Action Aid, UNICEF, and in co-operation with ministries of education. In my experience some of the following groups face exclusion from and in education: girls (and increasingly boys as a group), working children, children living on the streets, children from hard core poor families (rural/urban), children from remote areas, children of migrant families, children infected/affected by HIV/AIDS, children of sex-workers, children of gypsy families, children from sweepers’ colonies, children of different castes, social class, ethnic or language minority group, etc.


The Global Alliance for Inclusive Education
Richard Rieser

This new alliance was set up at the 3rd North-South Dialogue Conference on inclusive education in New Delhi in March 2005. It was the culmination of a number of years work between the National Resource Centre for Inclusion in Mumbai, India, CIDA Canada and UNICEF. The Alliance brings together disabled people, parents, education professionals and academics to exchange the practice and implementation of inclusive education.

The Global Alliance and the three conferences have always seen inclusive education as including all excluded groups. However the largest group of children systematically excluded from education are disabled children. Therefore the Alliance believes it is important that those with the experience of exclusion are in the leadership of the inclusion movement.

The choice of segregated education is an illusion. In a truly inclusive system the barriers are systematically removed to meet the needs of all learners. Because disabilism is one of the great exclusionary forces in the world we need a UN Convention that lays down the same rights for disabled people that exist for everyone else. The draft convention, and Article 17 in particular [which focuses on education], cannot offer segregation as a human right when it is a denial of human rights!

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For information on the proposed UN Convention, see