Welcome to e-include, the e-journal of Inclusion Europe.
Inclusion Europe’s conference on ‘Education for All’ put into motion solid plans for the inclusion of children with intellectual disabilities in the mainstream education system. The conference, funded by the European Commission, was attended by over 230 participants including: parents, self-advocates, educational experts as well as representatives of the Austrian Government and the Council of Europe.
Opening the discussions, Dr Anton Dobart of the Austrian Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture made the case for change at a national level. This was expanded by Austrian parents fighting for the right to education for children with intellectual disabilities after the age of 14. Participants also demanded that assessments of children with special needs (or: intellectual disabilities) in Austria should not only be done by special schools, but that mainstream schools should also have that right.
At the European level, Anna Nilsson from the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe noted the urgency of applying new educational practices for inclusive education with the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 24 ensures that ‘Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live’. This legal basis shaped the conference’s direction by making the question not about whether inclusive education should happen, but how to make inclusive education work.
Despite the positive outcomes of the conference the work is not yet complete. Following on from the conference, Inclusion Europe continues its work towards inclusive education through a Special Workshop in Graz, Austria. This is being attended by many participants of the conference in order to create solid action plans to make the transition to inclusive education as smooth as possible.
Inclusion Europe’s President, Ingrid Körner had this to say: ‘It is inspiring to see so many people dedicated to the cause of inclusive education, and with the conclusions of this conference as well as the UN Convention behind us we have an undeniable power to push forward the development of a quality education for all children.’
During the conference, Inclusion Europe held its Annual General Assembly 2008. Taking on the challenge of developing inclusive policies in future will be the new President-elect, Ivo Vykydal. Vykydal, a Deputy Minister of Transport of the Czech Republic, will take up the post in 2010-2014 and has stressed the importance of remaining vigilant ‘to ensure that human rights of people with intellectual disabilities remain at the top of the agenda at both European and national levels’. During the General Assembly important position papers were adopted on Supported Decision Making, Children and Families, and User Councils in Disability Services, paving the way for future work for the social inclusion of people with disabilities.
Both the conference and General Assembly reiterated the point that inclusive education is the basic criterion needed to create an inclusive society. However, the work does not end here and the focus of Inclusion Europe and its member organisations will be to ensure that these practices are developed across Europe and eventually broadened to all aspects of society. With the ultimate aim of inclusive education being social inclusion, next year’s conference in Finland will look at ‘Full Participation and Equality’ of people with intellectual disabilities.
Europe in Action 2008: Education for All! – 10-12 April, 2008.Kardinal Konig Haus Vienna, Austria. For more information about the Conference conclusions