Acting together for the education of persons with disabilities around the world


“I am convinced that education is the bridge that enables all human beings to exercise their rights”, said María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General on Disability and Accessibility.

María lost her eyesight progressively due to the deterioration of her retina. She is now fighting for the right to education for persons with disabilities.

Children and youth with disabilities are among those most likely to be excluded from education. More than 32 million children around the world with disabilities do not go to school.

They are less likely to ever attend school, more likely to be out of school and tend to have fewer years of education than those without disabilities. Most do not complete primary or secondary education or possess basic literacy skills.

On occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, María urges all of us to take concrete actions to advance the right to quality and inclusive education for every learner around the world, regardless of their ability or disability. She also speaks out about the impact of bullying on inclusion.

“We cannot ignore that violence against children and adolescents with disabilities in the school environment is a barrier to their inclusion.”

Every learner matters

In September 2019, UNESCO held an International Forum on Inclusion and Equity in Education “Every learner matters” in Cali, Colombia to stimulate dialogue, share experiences and revive the broadened notion of inclusion as a general guiding principle to strengthen equal access to quality learning opportunities in the framework of Education 2030.

This event marked the 25th anniversary of the Salamanca Declaration, which was adopted by 92 governments and 25 international organizations in 1994 at the World Conference on Special Needs Education organized by UNESCO and the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science.  

The Forum resulted in the establishment of the Cali Commitment, an outcome document stating the commitments of involved parties to accelerate action on inclusion in education.

Every learner has the right to education

UNESCO is committed to the promotion of inclusion in education and the realization of everyone’s right to education.

The Organization monitors the implementation of the right to education for persons with disabilities, informs policy, encourages policy and technical dialogue and supports countries in building inclusive and equitable education systems. This document provides an overview of national measures and good practices supporting the right to education for persons with disabilities.

In her message this year, Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay highlighted the need to build more inclusive education systems, and the role of education in helping to combat prejudice and discrimination.

Reaching every learner and providing them with quality education requires the development and implementation of inclusive policies and programmes. UNESCO works with countries and partners to promote education systems, which are free from barriers limiting the participation and achievement of all learners, respectful of diverse needs, abilities and characteristics and free of all forms of discrimination in the learning environment.

This year, International Day of Persons with Disabilities is centered on the theme “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda”. This day is commemorated since 1992 to promote awareness and mobilize support for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development.

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