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The Authorities Are Always Wrong

November 14, 2008

Anyone with any interest in Disability Rights should know by now that the UK government is currently refusing to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This is the first  international, legally binding human rights instrument to protect the rights of people with disabilities. According to BBC News, the government hopes to ratify the Convention by December 2008, but plans to modify its obligations in some areas, particularly the right of people with disabilities to access a mainstream education. With developing countries such as India, Bangladesh and South Africa on the growing list that have already ratified the CRPD, with no modifications, this is not good enough for Disability Rights campaigners in the UK- a country which claims to be developed.

Access to mainstream education has always been a struggle for disabled children and their parents. Richard Rieser is the director of Disability Equality in Education (DEE), a small non-governmental organisation that provides training, consultancy and resources to improve the position of disabled people in the education system. He has recently made the news for his efforts to convince the government to commit to improving facilities in mainstream schools by the year 2025, so that they can meet the needs of any disabled children who wish for a mainstream education, and, therefore, make more of an effort to practise what Disability Rights Campaigners call Inclusion.

On Sunday, 9th November 2008, DEE held a screening of one of their resources on Inclusive Education at the Tricycle Cinema in London. The short documentary, Developing Inclusive Education in South Africa, made by Richard Rieser and Ann Pugh, raises awareness of some of the steps that have been taken by the South African government to include their disabled children in mainstream education.

It was screened as part of a fundraising event, held in association with The Nihal Armstrong Trust, (NAT), a registered charity set up in 2004, in memory of my childhood friend, Nihal Armstrong. The Trust provides grants to the families of children aged 18 and under with Cerebral Palsy, for equipment and services to improve their lives, which local authorities are not able to provide.

NAT also screened a short documentary at the event on Sunday afternoon. Sarcastically titled The Authorities Are Always Right, the film by talented documentary maker Sapna Ramnani, who herself has Cerebral Palsy and is a great success story of an inclusive education, tells the story of Nihal Armstrong’s fight for a mainstream education from 1990 to 2001- a long, difficult and painful struggle which was eventually successful.

At the time when Nihal Armstrong, Sapna Ramnani and many others were fighting to be included into mainstream schools, there was no Convention to protect the rights of disabled people. Yet both of these extremely intelligent people deserved the success that they found in the mainstream education system.

There are many intelligent disabled children and young people today who could benefit a great deal from a ratified Convention protecting their right to access a mainstream education, as well as many other areas of mainstream society. The UK government protects the rights of many other minority groups very successfully. What is stopping them from protecting the rights of disabled people? This is the 21st century. The government, and mainstream society, has nothing to fear from us. To Disability Rights Campaigners, the government’s plans to allow more disabled MPs into Parliament seem pointless unless they can also protect the rights of ordinary disabled people by ratifying the CRPD. If ratifying the Convention will save even one intelligent disabled child the pain that Nihal Armstrong experienced, I think it would be well worthwhile. Just as Nihal Armstrong’s local authority were very wrong ever to question his ability to benefit from a mainstream education, the UK government are wrong today, in taking so long to ratify such an important Convention.

This post is part of the Inclusion Rules! debate at Same Difference.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mazhar permalink
    November 15, 2008 5:24 am

    I am extremly impressed by the content of the article and its presentation. Keep on the good work. Its individuals like you and me that make the difference. Once must recognize social responsbility and work for a genuine cause. My best wishes. And keep on writing.

  2. Anne permalink
    November 15, 2008 6:04 pm

    I was teaching a class of University students this week about Inclusion. They all expressed the belief that we should keep special schools and that many children should go to them. However when asked to imagine themselves as parents of a disabled child they all said that they would want the right for their child to go to the local mainstream school.

    Having worked in both the special school system and in mainstreams schools, supporting disabled children, I have absolutely no doubts that it is imperative that the Government ratifies the Convention.

    Thank you for writing this post and please keep raising awareness of this issue.

  3. samedifference1 permalink
    November 15, 2008 6:21 pm

    Thank you both for your wonderful copmments. Anne, you sound like a brilliant teacher who knows exactly what to say to make her class think! I wish you were my teacher!

  4. November 20, 2008 3:28 pm

    The problem with the Inclusion strategy at the moment is that the education wallahs see it as a straight choice between ‘inclusion’ or ‘special schools’. Yet some disabled children, while capable of attemtping a mainstream school, do need that extra support from experts in disability, and a helper within the mainstream school itself.

    I know someone who teaches at a primary school, and she had a severely autistic child in her class. The child wasn’t nasty, but she was always running around, being violent and (unintentionally) causing a lot of problems, which meant that the teacher had to devote most of her time to the autistic child, so the rest of the class lost out. Now this was an extreme case, but it does show why special schools are still necessary, and that inclusion, while a noble goal, isn’t always the best thing in practice, unless the disabled child has adequate support.

  5. samedifference1 permalink
    November 20, 2008 11:20 pm

    Of course we need Learning Support, Rumbold. We all had it. I would never suggest that we don’t. With full Learning Support for those who need it, would you support Inclusion?

  6. November 23, 2008 7:07 pm

    Yes, but there will always be a few children for whom it is impractical to be educated in a mainstream school. I don’t like it, but it is the sad reality.

  7. samedifference1 permalink
    November 23, 2008 9:45 pm

    I agree with you there, Rumbold. But I always have and always will support Inclusion for those who wish for a mainstream education and are intellectually capable of handling the mainstream curriculum, with full Learning Support for those who need it.

  8. November 24, 2008 11:27 am



  1. A Disappointing Development « Same Difference
  2. A Tribute To Disabled Filmmaker Ann Pugh | Same Difference

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