The Global Burden of Disease study estimated around 95 million (5.1%) children with disabilities between 0-14 years globally, and 80% of these children are living in low-income and middle-income countries. Majority children with disabilities are deprived of their right to quality, inclusive education due to absence of financial and other incentives to attend school, lack of social protection and support services for children with disabilities and their families.
The profound effects of COVID-19 pandemic on the public health as well as socio-economic and cultural systems around the world are well-established by now. The crises such as pandemics, warfare and natural disasters create additional challenges for children with disabilities due to their functional limitations. Along with isolation, neglect, and separation from family members; children with disabilities may also face lack of inclusive humanitarian response and disruption in education. The mainstream education responses for continued learning of children during COVID-19, such as remote education using technology tools may not be accessible to children with disabilities, particularly to low-income families and children residing in remote areas. Additionally, access to school nutrition program, inclusive WASH facilities or essential care services and therapies may not be available at home or the community settings.
In order to ensure the right of education for children with disabilities, the COVID-19 pandemic can be utilized to review and plan accessible and inclusive education for children with disabilities during and after emergencies. The efforts by some countries during previous pandemics such as Ebola could help develop the guidelines, in consideration of potential challenges.
The reforms planned and implemented during this pandemic will also guide the inclusion of children with disabilities while tackling other crises or humanitarian conflicts.
Education of children with disabilities may be added as a part of humanitarian relief efforts to save them from dangers and exploitation during and after emergencies. Education systems should be modified and supported to provide accessible learning to children with disabilities. Teachers play an important role in providing inclusive education, and need to be trained in delivering remote learning, considering children with complex learning needs. Contextual and culture-appropriate mechanisms are needed for inclusive WASH, nutrition, and mental health support for children with disabilities.
The crises such as this also increase stress among parents and caregivers of children with disabilities. The caregivers and family members should be encouraged to reach out to community members, community-based organizations, or mental health helplines for psychosocial support during and after the pandemic. Parents and caregivers should also be encouraged to collaborate with teachers to ensure the well-being and learning of the children with disability. Studies are required to generate the disaggregate data by disability for emergency response, to develop interventions, and to improve support for children with disabilities in their learning.
- World Health Organization (WHO). World Report on Disability. 2011 [Cited 2020 June 2]. Available from http://www.who.int/ disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf
- Global Partnership for Education. Disability and Inclusive Education: A Stocktake of Education Sector Plans and GPE-Funded Grants [Working paper on the Internet]. 2018 February.
- United Nations children’s Fund (UNICEF). The State of the World’s Children: Children with disabilities.2013. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/sowc2013/files/SWCR2013_ENG_Lo_res_24_Apr_2013.pdf.
- McClain-Nhlapo C. An inclusive response to COVID-19: Education for children with disabilities. Global Partnership for Education. Available from: https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/inclusive-response-covid-19-education-children-disabilities.
- USAID. Universal Design For Learning To Help All Children Read: Promoting Literacy for Learners with Disabilities. Available from: https://www.edu-links.org/sites/default/files/media/file/Literacy%20for%20All%20toolkit_v4.1_0.pdf.
- Tackling inequity in education during and after COVID-19. Available from: https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/tackling-inequity-education-during-and-after-covid-19