Literacy skills are a fundamental component of most daily living skills. However, most students with disabilities in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs) are not given literacy instruction. In fact, most children with disabilities in LMICS are estimated not to be receiving any formal education. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 90 percent of children with disabilities in LMICs have never received any form of education. Once in school, teachers are often not trained in how to effectively teach core academics, such as literacy, to different students with disabilities. As a result, many students with disabilities are illiterate as they have never been given the opportunity to learn and reach their full academic potential.
On June 13, 2018, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the University Research Company (URC) hosted a side event on the importance of promoting literacy skills for students with disabilities at the 11th Session of the Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The COSP brings together governments, civil society and disability advocates from around the world to discuss issues related to the implementation of the CRPD. This year the theme of the COSP meeting was “Leaving No One Behind Through Full Implementation of the CRPD”; literacy fits well within this theme as too often students with disabilities are left behind and remain unnecessarily illiterate.
To help highlight the importance of literacy acquisition, Josh Josa, the USAID Inclusive Education Specialist, presented on different initiatives that USAID is doing to promote literacy skills for students with disabilities while Anne Hayes, the main writer for the URC-supported and soon to be released Toolkit to Promote Literacy Skills for Students with Disabilities, provided additional information on the toolkit and its importance for students with disabilities in LMICs.
The event also included: Collin Allen, the chair of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), on the position papers on inclusive education developed by the different IDA members; and Ola Abu Alghaib of Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD), who spoke about why this is such an important issue for the international disability community. Deepa Srikantaiah, Senior Researcher of the Reading within Reach (REACH) project and manager of the toolkit, moderated the event, which was also supported technically by Richard Felty of URC.
The Toolkit to Promote Literacy Skills for Students with Disabilities that was presented at the COSP provides practical instructional techniques and recommendations for additional supports and services that can be implemented in LMICs to improve literacy skills for students with disabilities. Using the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the toolkit provides different evidence-based instructional approaches that support literacy acquisition for students with different categories of disabilities while also highlighting the practices that improve literacy skills for all students with disabilities. These techniques are proven to be more effective learning approaches that benefit students with and without disabilities. The toolkit also provides information on the holistic supports needed to support students with disabilities (e.g., trained teachers, reasonable accommodations, accessible learning materials, etc.). The final chapter of the toolkit focuses on how these evidence-based practices can be applied in practice in LMICs, including providing recommendations for “dos” and “don’ts” of funding and answering frequently asked questions such as how to transition an education system towards supporting inclusive education for all and suggestions for taking projects to scale.
The information on the toolkit was incredibly well received by the diverse participants who attended the side event at the United Nations. Participants included government officials and representatives from disabled persons organizations (DPOs), civil society, bilateral donors and different United Nations agencies and represented all regions in which USAID works.
The toolkit will be officially launched in July 2018, with a short webinar on how to use the toolkit to improve literacy skills for students with disabilities in international education programs following in late July.