On March 7, UNICEF announced that at least 75 percent of an estimated 5.1 million children with disabilities in Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia have fewer opportunities as their classmates due to a lack of quality, inclusive education.
According to the report, millions of children in these areas never enter school, and children less likely to enroll never benefit from learning or complete primary or secondary education. Children with disabilities in these countries, hundreds of thousands according to the report, remain in “special” schools, segregated from their peers.
“This is a tragic waste of potential – for these children, their families, national economies and society,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Ms. Afshan Khan. “Today, UNICEF is calling for investments in quality availability and affordability of assistive technologies, as these products have the potential to drastically increase the number of children with disabilities accessing their fundamental right to education.”
UNICEF believes if students had more access to assistive technologies in schools across these regions, students with disabilities would benefit greatly by attending school, participating in their communities and gaining more independence. Technologies such as special reader and tablets or lightweight, inexpensive wheelchairs could greatly benefit these students, according to the report. These along with other technologies for students with disabilities will be showcased at a two-day event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
“For a child living with a disability, access to assistive technology can mean the difference between a life of exclusion and isolation to getting an education and reaching their full potential,” said Khan at the exhibit opening.
UNICEF estimates that access to these assistive technologies in low-income countries could be as low as 5-15 percent. The report states some barriers in accessing these technologies include lack of production and services, lack of properly trained personnel and lack of awareness that these technologies exist.
To help children with disabilities access assistive technologies and products, UNICEF has set out key recommendations for governments, the private sector and other key stakeholders:
- Undertake more research to better understand how assistive technology can support children and the types of technology currently available.
- Adopt legislation and policies that help ensure all children can access assistive technologies.
- Provide funding and subsidies to make assistive technology less expensive and accessible to all children, especially the most vulnerable.
- Establish systems to ensure the supply, quality and service.
- Train personnel so that technologies can be used, maintained, updated and repaired.
- Involve children with disabilities and their families in the development of policies and design of assistive technology services and products.