Governments and international agencies such as UNESCO and UNICEF view access to education as a route out of poverty. Persons with disabilities, both young and older, face barriers in accessing education and often find themselves with lower education levels in comparison to their peers. Evidence has shown that children with disabilities who do not have access to their local school are more likely to live in poverty as an adult.

A number of international frameworks cover access to education both generally and specifically. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Education) includes a specific reference to the need for people with disabilities to have equal access to all levels of education and vocational training. Disability specific frameworks include UNESCO's Salamanca Statement – Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. The right of persons with disabilities to access education is covered by Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

At a practice level, there is no one single approach to including persons with disabilities in education. It is dependent on a number of factors, such as community capacity, attitudes to disability, education policies and funding. Inclusive education is frequently promoted as the most appropriate option for students with disabilities along with other marginalised groups. This is however dependent on the development of local skills and capacity. Complementary or alternative models such as partial integration, specialist education and life skills training also have a place in educating persons with disabilities. Sign language and/or bilingual (spoken and signed) education are also promoted for children who are Deaf, for whom sign language is a preferred means of communication.

Resources in this section include international and regional frameworks, policy guidance, peer-reviewed evidence on educational access for persons with disabilities, and practical guidance on how to ensure persons with disabilities are able to participate in education.

See also: Children and Youth with Disabilities, Early intervention, Early childhood development, Child protection, Accessible infrastructure and communications.

DFAT (2023) Disability-Inclusive Education: Policy Guidance

This Policy Guidance Document provides introductory information regarding inclusive education, to assist DFAT in supporting the design, implementation, and monitoring of inclusive education initiatives. It refers to the international ‘Framework for Disability-Inclusive Education’ and discusses the key elements of inclusive education identified within the Framework. The Guidance Document can be used to guide the assessment of inclusive education at the country and program level.

World Bank Group (2019). Equity and Inclusion in Education in World Bank Projects: Persons with Disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, and Sexual and Gender Minorities.

This paper focuses on three groups who experience deeply entrenched disadvantages, inequity, exclusion, and discrimination in education: persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and sexual and gender minorities. Inclusion and equity in education at all levels recognize the responsibility of the school system and individual teachers and school leaders to create a learning environment that facilitates all students. Inclusion and equity also require an enabling law and policy environment that support inclusion and nondiscrimination in education and in all spheres of life. Making education inclusive and equitable requires recognizing: (a) that many different groups experience exclusion, and (b) that some individuals’ exclusion is compounded by their belonging to more than one disadvantaged group.

IDA (2020). “What an inclusive, equitable, quality education means to us”. IDA Report on Inclusive Education Launched

The IDA Global Report aims to inform education sector stakeholders on the priorities agreed by the disability rights movement, and to equip disability activists and their allies with essential messages and recommendations to unify and strengthen advocacy towards effective and accelerated reforms of the education sector. The IDA report lays down the minimum conditions required for inclusion of all children and youths – including children and youths with disabilities in education. It puts forward measures required to build an inclusive education system geared towards providing quality education to all children and youths equitably. It also provides recommendations to governments and civil society that IDA deems essential and urgent for the implementation of inclusive education for all learners, including children and youth with disabilities.

World Bank (2019). Every learner matters: Unpacking the Learning Crisis for Children With Disabilities

This report prepared by the World Bank, establishes the learning crisis for children with disabilities and presents evidence of how and why children with disabilities are being left behind, and the need to shift from school access to prioritizing learning. The report provides an evidence-based review of educational participation, takes stock of current mechanisms of measurement of learning outcomes and review their inclusivity, and explores evidence of practice and systems which promote disability-inclusive learning for all.

UNESCO (2020) Global Education Monitoring Report 2020, Inclusion in education: All means ALL

This report is pivotal in highlighting the inequalities in educational opportunities and barriers, which have been compounded by COVID-19. The Global Education Monitoring report recommends education actors to widen their understanding of inclusive education, by drawing attention to all those excluded from education - due to reasons including background or ability. The report seeks to rebuild a more inclusive education system.

DFAT (2019) Disability Inclusive Education: Practitioner Level course

This module is designed to inform those who engage with and lead policy dialogue with international and domestic partners of diverse implementation strategies and key priorities in disability-inclusive education. It is recommended that users complete the Disability-Inclusive Education: Foundation Level module as background information to this Practitioner Level Module.

Chata Male & Quentin T. Wodon (2017) Disability gaps in educational attainment and literacy (English)

This note provides an analysis of gaps in educational opportunities for children with disabilities. It also measures the impact at the margin of exclusion related to various types of disabilities on education outcomes for children. Four main outcomes are considered: whether children ever enroll in school, whether they complete their primary education, whether they complete their secondary education, and whether they are literate. The analysis is implemented using the most recent census data available for a total of 19 countries.

UNESCO (1994) The Salamanca Statement and framework for action on special needs education

This Statement was adopted by the World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality ( Salamanca, Spain, 7-10 June 1994). It is a hallmark document, which emphasises the importance of educating children with disabilities. It outlines approaches for educating children with disabilities, and includes inclusive education. This Statement formed a foundation for later frameworks, such as Education for All, which focuses on inclusive education as the preferred mechanism for educating children with disabilities.

Humanity & Inclusion Source: Key list on education

This key list presents information about the inclusion of persons with disabilities in education. The resources featured includes a range of documents reflecting the concept that education is broader than schooling for children, and as such includes education during emergencies, community based education, inclusive education, vocational training and non-formal, early childhood, primary, secondary and higher education.

Global Partnership for Education (GPE) (formerly Fast Track from EFA 2000)

This page sets out the work of the Global Partnership for Education in relation to children with disabilities. The GPE is a broad international collaborative response to education. Funds are controlled by the World Bank and released to developing country governments. The Asia Pacific Education network feeds into this global campaign along with GCE Education Coalitions / Local Education Groups based in developing countries with governments, donors and other stakeholders. GPE's 2014 Global Action Week (4-10 May 2014) focuses on Education and Disability and the call for more inclusive education.

CBM (2013) End the Cycle: Indepth- Education, disability and poverty (Video)

This 2 minute video provides a brief, high level overview of the issues relating to education, disability and poverty. Presented by Australian paralympian gold medallist, Liesel Tesch.

UNESCO (2002) The Dakar Framework for Action: Education for all: Meeting our collective commitments

Adopted by 164 countries, this framework is a commitment to achieve basic education for all by 2015. The Education for All (EfA) framework stipulates that “basic education for all is essential for achieving the goals of eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality, and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy”. Within the framework, inclusive education is stated as the preferred mechanism for educating children with disabilities.

World Health Organization and World Bank (2011) World report on disability – Chapter 7: Education

This chapter gives an overview of available evidence regarding the education of children with disabilities. It covers the rates of participation of children with disabilities in education, compared to their peers without disabilities globally. It also provides an overview of education and disability including: approaches to educating children with disabilities; the impact of educational setting on the outcomes of children with disabilities; barriers to education; and interventions and recommendations. It is a useful source of global evidence.

CBM Australia supported NORFIL Foundation to implement the Enable Communities for Inclusion of Children and Youth with Disabilities project from 2020 to 2022. The project had a significant impact on children and youth with disabilities, as well as their families, by fostering stronger commitment to disability inclusion among local councils, and by supporting children with disabilities and their families to become disability advocates. Key achievements of the project include successfully advocating for increased budget allocations by local councils to support people with disabilities, improving access to inclusive education and healthcare services, supporting families to implement home-based rehabilitation and education programs, providing training and peer support for family members, and empowering children and youth with disabilities to advocate for their rights.

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Ruma stands confidently holding a text book with Bangla characters. She is wearing a beautiful orange beaded and embroidered shawl and dress. Behind her, a group of around 10 young Bangladeshi boys and girls in school uniforms sit on the ground outside, next to a brick building, ready for a lesson, together with some young women and young children.

Photo: Wahid Adnan/Drik/CDD/CBM Australia, Bangladesh

Ruma is a young woman with disability from Bangladesh. She has overcome barriers to complete primary and secondary schooling, and enrol at college. Her dream is to do a Masters Degree and secure a job in the government sector. Read her full story here. Copyright: 2011 CDD/CBM Australia