“Parents of children with disabilities face many challenges, but few as great as ensuring their children get a good education.” – CBC, The Current, April 29, 2014
Education is the foundation for a fulfilling community life. The school experience is pivotal in shaping our opportunities for employment, our relationships, our contributions to our community and our vision for the future. Lifelong patterns of inclusion are established in early childhood education programs, preschools, in the classroom and on the playgrounds of neighbourhood schools.
In Canada the right to education is contained in provincial/territorial education acts. These acts typically provide access to public education for children from ages 5/6 years to 18/21 years of age. In addition, human rights acts ensure both access as well as protection from discrimination.
In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) handed down a landmark decision on disability rights. The decision in the Moore case (Moore vs B.C.) states that students with disabilities are entitled to receive the accommodation measures they need to access and benefit from the service of public education. In this regard, the Court said that adequate special education is not “a dispensable luxury”. The Court acknowledged that such measures serve as “the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.”
Moore (SCC) reaffirms that human rights law requires education providers to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities. This means that where a barrier is identified, accommodations must be provided to overcome that barrier, unless to do so would cause an undue hardship.
School districts in Canada must take a proactive approach to budgeting and programming, to ensure that the rights of students with disabilities to accommodation are taken into account. Appropriate budgeting by provincial governments is also crucial. School districts make program choices within budgetary envelopes determined by provincial governments. Children and families must be ensured of their right to the benefits of public education in an inclusive community or neighbourhood school.
On December 13, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The purpose of the Convention is to promote, defend, and reinforce the human rights of all persons with disabilities.
Ratified by Canada in 2010, the CRPD is a tool that helps communities and governments understand why and how the rights of people with disabilities aren’t being realized. It provides a framework that articulates the conditions needed to make rights a reality. While the CRPD does not establish any new rights for people with disabilities, it introduces new concepts that are necessary for the realization of a right. The CRPD provides an aspirational direction to guide our efforts to build an inclusive and accessible Canada. The CRPD can make a meaningful difference in lives of people with disabilities and their families in Canada and around the word.
Article 24 of the CRPD prohibits discrimination against children with disabilities and mandates the right to inclusive education. This provision is focused on removing barriers to participation in typical classrooms in public schools and thus promotes inclusion in the community and society as a whole. State parties (countries) are specifically charged with the obligation to ensure access to inclusive general education with non-disabled peers. This is the first time this right to inclusive education has been explicitly articulated in international human rights law. The Parliament of Canada and each Canadian province have ratified the Convention and thus accepted this as law in our country.
While progress has been made toward ensuring access to inclusive education, Canada is still not fully in compliance with Article 24. There are still obstacles to be removed and supports to be developed and funded. Each province and territory in Canada has work to do to fulfill the promise of the Convention. Inclusive Education Canada is working to meet this challenge.