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Coronavirus Pandemic

Children with disabilities face significant multiple vulnerabilities during pandemic

mother with deaf son, smiling
Photo: Dreamstime

The world is faced with a global education emergency of unprecedented scale. According to estimates by the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic, at its peak, caused more than 180 countries to mandate temporary school closures, leaving 85 percent of the world’s learners out of school. Children with disabilities and their families, especially those living in poverty, face significant multiple vulnerabilities during this pandemic, including education, health, and social protection.

The World Bank’s Inclusive Education Initiative (IEI) presents its latest Issues Paper, ‘Pivoting to Inclusion: Leveraging Lessons from the COVID-19 Crisis for Learners with Disabilities.’

The challenges facing learners with disabilities are numerous.

  • Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable – facing multiple forms of exclusion linked to education, health, gender equity, and social inclusion. Those living in poverty are at risk of further marginalization.
  • The schooling and learning deficit experienced by learners with disabilities impedes the ability to earn income as adults, which impacts individuals, households, and communities, contributing significantly to a country’s human capital gap.
  • At the peak of lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic caused 180 countries to close schools temporarily, forcing 85% of the world’s learners out of school, furthering the risk of marginalization for children with disabilities
  • The digital divide exacerbates the learning divide among learners related to accessing equipment, electricity, and the internet for learners with disabilities who have an additional barrier of inaccessible learning content. Also, many remote learning options are not accessible to blind and deaf learners.

COVID-19 obliges us to rethink remote learning with an inclusive lens, where every child, whether they have a disability or not, can access and participate in learning that takes place away from the classroom.

  • Adopt a twin-track approach to disability inclusion in all phases of response: relief (immediate actions needed), recovery (medium-term actions to ensure safe reopening), and resilience (long-term actions).
  • Use the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to ensure multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression are utilized for learners to think, develop skills, and grow while at home.
  • Information should be wide-reaching and available in multiple languages and multiple accessible formats to reach learners and families of children who are at risk of being excluded.
  • It is crucial to support teachers in three core areas: resilience, instruction, and technology- training must focus on responding to learning loss as well as supporting parents to engage while learners with disabilities are compelled to stay at home.
  • Ensuring safety, protection, and inclusion should be a priority when reopening schools. Children who are hardest to reach with remote learning, including those with disabilities, should be prioritized, where appropriate, among the first to have opportunities to return to school.

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