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Commonwealth partners examine inclusive education and sustainable employment for persons with disabilities

10 January 2012
Participants from 14 Commonwealth countries explore best practices for implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said the exclusion of persons with disabilities from school or work militates against the Commonwealth’s deeply held conviction that equal opportunity is what contributes to the progress and well-being of communities.

He was speaking at the opening of a Commonwealth Secretariat Expert Roundtable on Inclusive Education and Sustainable Employment for Persons with Disabilities in the Commonwealth on Tuesday, 10 January in London, UK.

Over two days, 42 participants from 14 Commonwealth countries will examine the issues and share their experiences of promoting inclusive education - the process of enabling all children to learn within mainstream school systems without segregation - and sustainable employment for persons with disabilities.

“There is a long road ahead to ensure that disability rights are seen as central to the development agenda. This roundtable can play an important part in continuing the dialogue that will ensure the Commonwealth is able to use its influence as a development partner to embed this understanding ever more widely,” said Mr Sharma.

He added that he was heartened by the progress made by Commonwealth member states towards improving access to education and employment under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and that the Secretariat was ready to assist those member countries who had yet to ratify the Convention and with the implementation of its provisions.

The CRPD reaffirms the existing human rights of persons with disabilities and sets standards for the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in their communities. Articles 24 and 27 of the CRPD deal respectively with the promotion of inclusive education and ensuring sustainable employment for persons with disabilities.

As of November 2011, 27 of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states have ratified the CRPD.

Some of the key issues discussed by participants for the implementation of the CRPD include: the lack of a knowledge network; ensuring that the perspectives of persons with disabilities are central to development programmes; mainstreaming disability into the development agenda; and building the capacity of key stakeholders including teachers, parents, trade unions, employers, governments and national human rights institutions.

Acting Head of the Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit, Karen McKenzie, said the outcomes of the roundtable will lead to the development of a best practice publication for member countries to improve implementation of the CRPD.

Integration is about putting someone into an environment where they are expected to fit into it. Inclusion is about making changes to ensure that everyone can be included, rather than expecting the person to change – Zara Todd, Commonwealth Young Disabled Peoples’ Forum / Alliance for Inclusive Education

Speaking to Commonwealth News, Windsor Earl Witter, the Public Defender in Jamaica, said: “There is a need for greater collaboration between all member states of the Commonwealth in advancing the principles and ideals of the Convention. I think the Secretariat can do a great deal in disseminating information on progress.”

Jan Scown, Director at the Office for Disability Issues in New Zealand, added: “I think this meeting is important as a lot of Commonwealth countries like New Zealand do not have the opportunities to network with people who are grappling with the same issues, because of distance.”

Mr Sharma said that the Commonwealth’s new online information sharing platform - Commonwealth Connects - launched at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, in October 2011 could be used as a tool for sharing best practice and working together for the full inclusion of people with disabilities.

The UN General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting on disability and development in September 2013.

Participants at the roundtable include representatives from UNICEF, the International Labour Organization, International Paralympics Committee, Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum, Commonwealth Young Disabled People's Forum, Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport, Cricket 4 Change, practitioners from governments, national human rights protection mechanisms and civil society organisations.