GAAD: Inclusive Education and the Samoa Experience

By May 8th, 2013

It doesn't really matter whether we're discussing children or adults; it doesn't matter whether we're talking about access in Samoa or in your own country: accessibility is the same everywhere you go.

(Local time, Samoa: 2:16am, May 9th)

While reading about all the different ways that people are celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) this year, I came across a case study from Samoa conducted a few years ago and their efforts to create a model to provide inclusive education for children with disabilities. After findings from a survey conducted by the Samoa Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture uncovered issues with segregation, lack of equality in education, and even higher mortality rates for children with disabilities in Samoa, a sub-project was formed to address these problems. The strategic plan prioritized two key principles:

  • Every child has a right to an education, and
  • The education system has to change to include a broader range of abilities and learning needs.

The Samoa team presented the results of this case study in 2009 as a part of the Pacific Regional Initiative for the Development of Basic Education (PRIDE) Conference. Through this case study, they demonstrated a sustainable system to provide inclusive education for Samoan children with disabilities. What were some of the important discoveries from the case study?

  • Too few students were integrated into village schools.
  • There was a lack of referral information and resources available to families.
  • Teachers weren’t properly equipped to facilitate inclusive education practices.
  • There was limited access to information about children with disabilities.
  • Some of the basic access needs for children with disabilities were missing, including ramp gradients, railings, and appropriate door widths.
  • Even those who were responsible for developing inclusive education practices displayed negative attitudes.

I think it’s significant and worth mentioning this case study today as we kick off GAAD 2013. I know it’s about children and education, and it’s set in a part of the world that most of us don’t really have on our regular travel routes. But, it doesn’t really matter whether we’re discussing children or adults; it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about access in Samoa or in your own country: accessibility is the same everywhere you go. The drivers are planted firmly in the conviction that inclusion is a human right, and the challenges all center on a lack of awareness, education, resources, and process. Sound familiar?

What did the Samoa team do to overcome these challenges?

  • Get leadership (at the national level) to support their efforts.
  • Establish standardized design guidelines.
  • Create a publicity and marketing plan to increase awareness and education about disabilities.
  • Capture the success stories and share them so that a sustainable long-term system could be built.

Again, does this sound familiar? To me, it reads a lot like the case studies that you may have encountered, where champions for change within an organization outline their steps for success. Heck, it reads a lot like presentations I’ve given about my own experiences in advocacy. So, as you’re thinking about accessibility awareness and global or local change, remember this. We are not alone in this struggle for inclusion. And, while our experiences aren’t necessarily unique, that doesn’t make them any less important. Quite the contrary, we should learn from shared stories and build on the same principles to achieve our bigger goals. Get buy-in at the highest level you can, establish some standard guidelines, and (this is my interpretation) be loud and joyful about your efforts.

Case study article: Making education inclusive of children with disabilities in Samoa

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