The integration of people with disabilities into society requires their education. In order for a person with a disability to recognise that he or she has equal value with others, he or she must receive appropriate education.
But what is appropriate education for people with disabilities and to what extent is it provided in today’s schools?
The education of students with disabilities must include a set of practices based on the assumption that all children have the same right to benefit to the maximum from the educational opportunities provided. Consequently, the school environment must be structured in such a way that all barriers that hinder the equal participation of all pupils are eliminated.
It seems that the theories about disability that have been put forward over the years have not been the basis for taking appropriate measures for a quality life for disabled people. It is therefore necessary to redefine disability through education, which can help to create a new culture of disability. To this end, it is proposed to create a new educational model that understands disability as a consequence of a person’s reduced participation in education.
Within this model, traditional notions of “defectiveness” are challenged, as the issue is not the different student, who is required to adapt to existing conditions, but instead a new reality is built, where each student, regardless of any physical, mental, psychological, social, cultural, religious, racial, etc. characteristics, makes his/her own personal contribution. This means that the state must organise its structures in such a way that all students, without exception, are afforded absolute equality and respect for their individuality
The treatment of people with disabilities has at times taken various forms, such as rejection, isolation, pity, charity, etc. Today, the situation is different as the introduction of compulsory education, the declaration of human rights in 1950, the struggle against discrimination, the shift of focus to the child in the educational process and other events have helped to shape the contemporary trends in the field of special education.
. In the period from 1906 to 1950, the education of people with disabilities was carried out on private initiative and is distinguished by its strong protectionism and institutional form. The period from the mid-1950s to the post-war period is characterised by the evolution of attitudes towards people with disabilities, with a strong private and public interest in people with intellectual disabilities and people with mental disorders
From the post-independence period to the present day, we have now seen the activation of the official state towards people with disabilities through measures aimed at providing equal educational opportunities.
The project of joint education for pupils with and without disabilities has gone through various stages, which can be seen in the different terms used: ‘partial attendance in the mainstream classroom’, ‘inclusion’, ‘co-education’, ‘full co-education’, ‘universal design’. In the 1970s and 1980s, the practice of ‘partial attendance in the mainstream classroom’ was practised, where pupils with disabilities attended the mainstream classroom for a few hours.
At the same time, the term ‘inclusion’ appears, which referred to the right to education of all pupils with disabilities, as a large percentage of them, despite the implementation of ‘part-time education in the general classroom’, remained excluded from educational structures. In practice, of course, the institution of inclusion was implemented in a piecemeal fashion, without any particular changes. At the same time, there was an increase in the number of referrals of children to special education structures.
This tactic has raised serious concerns about whether the operation of special classes would ultimately lead to greater marginalisation of pupils with special educational needs than to inclusion. As a result, the term ‘co-education’ emerged in the 1990s.
Co-education refers to ensuring that all students are provided with appropriate learning experiences so that the school meets their educational needs, whatever their characteristics. The aim is to create a school for all, which can accommodate every student without excluding them on the pretext of being unable to meet their needs.
The state of education of people with disabilities in Greece remains extremely poor. The education of children with disabilities refers almost exclusively to primary education, while provision for vocational education is almost non-existent. Inclusion classes are the main type of education, while other forms of education such as cooperative teaching are ignored, with the result that inclusion remains at a philosophical level.
The National Disability Movement advocates for primary and secondary education for people with disabilities:
- Legislative enshrinement of compulsory and free education for pupils with disabilities in all school structures.
- Co-education of these pupils in the mainstream classroom with the provision of appropriate support.
- . Increasing the funds available from the state budget for the education of people with disabilities
- Compulsory education from the 5th to the 18th year, instead of the 16th year set by the Ministry
- Special care for students with multiple disabilities, the majority of whom currently remain outside the education system, in total violation of the country’s Constitution.
- – Inclusion of other categories of disability such as mental disabilities – chronic diseases (thalassaemia, renal failure, type 1 diabetes mellitus, congenital heart disease, etc.)
- Appropriate training of teacher candidates in university departments and continuous training of active teachers.
- Meaningful involvement of parents in their children’s education, provision of support and counselling services and full recognition of their right to participate in educational decisions.
- Participation of the National Confederation of Persons with Disabilities in the National Council of Education, review of educational legislation and adoption of provisions that will equalize in practice the education of persons with disabilities.
- Participation of a special committee of experts to submit proposals and evaluate the education of people with disabilities at all levels (material and technical structure, internet, new technologies).
- Provision of textbooks adapted to the needs of students (e.g. Braille books, textbooks for children with hearing problems, intellectual disabilities, etc.).
- Establishment of a National Printing House for the printing of books in Braille at all levels of education, as well as book recording studios.
- Implementation of the provisions of Law 2817/2000 (free public education for all students with disabilities, free services for diagnosis, assessment, counselling and facilitation of procedures, such as interpretation in Greek Sign Language, provision of support services for general education schools, ongoing programmes supporting valid intervention etc.).
The National Disability Movement advocates for higher education for people with disabilities:
to ensure the public character of the university,
- ensure access for people with disabilities to all areas and spaces of higher education (lecture halls, laboratories, libraries, dormitories, dining halls),
- to start the work of the Tripartite Committee with the participation of ESAMEA, the Ministry of Education and the University in order to achieve the goal of “University for All” without discrimination and exclusion,
- to establish the General Secretariat for Equality for the education of people with disabilities and to ensure the representation of the ESAMEA in the National Council of Education,
- to set up the reception, information and support service for students, so that they can be informed about their rights during their higher education,
- to legalise the provision of technical equipment (free internet, PCs with accessible software compatible with each category of disability) and to ensure the accessibility of University websites,
- ensure students’ right to universal access services and structures, so that they can move to other universities in cooperation with European forums,
- to examine students with disabilities in the same subject matter as other students but to adapt the way of examination (written instead of oral and vice versa, extension of examination time, printing in Braille), depending on the needs of each student,
- to apply article 12 of Law 2640 (admission without examinations of persons with disabilities to the country’s universities and technical colleges at a rate of 3%) and to include in this rate other persons with serious illnesses at a rate of 67% or more, such as congenital heart disease, persons with epilepsy, ankylosing spondylitis, etc..,
- the unimpeded implementation of what the Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs has defined in response to the proposals of the Disability Movement for students with disabilities:
α) During the period of their studies to be informed in time by a designated employee of the Secretariats of the Departments for the schedule, time and place of the courses and for any change related to their student status..
β) During the examination period, to be examined in accessible areas, to be accompanied if necessary to the examination rooms by University employees or their own persons and to be examined in ways appropriate to their circumstances..
γ) Throughout the academic year, appoint a professor or professors to whom students can turn throughout the academic year to discuss their problems and who can mediate with the university authorities to resolve them).
δ) Provide students with disabilities with an allowance which will be differentiated according to the type of disability.
ε) To operate Counselling Centres, which will be supportive bodies for students with disabilities, in order to offer counselling services and direct psychosocial support not only to people with disabilities, but to all students.