Children with deafblindness have a right to an inclusive, free, quality education to meet their full potential and cannot be prohibited from education due to their disability, regardless of their support needs. This includes the right to individualised support measures, facilitation of learning deafblind communication methods, delivery of education in modes and means of communication for the individual, facilitation of orientation and mobility, access to assistive devices and technologies, and access to live assistance[i].
However, the reality is that many children with deafblindness are not enrolled in school, often due to lack of parental support and/or schools’ refusals to accept children with deafblindness because of their high support requirements, according to WFDB’s survey. Data from 36 countries in the MICS[ii] showed that only 7% of young children with deafblindness (aged 3-4 years) were enrolled in early childhood education programmes. Children with deafblindness were less likely to be enrolled in early childhood education compared to children with other disabilities (20%) or children without disabilities (31%). The proportion of children with deafblindness that were attending early childhood education increased with country income level, which was similar to children with other disabilities and children without disabilities.
Enrolment improves at the primary school level, but the trend remains. The data revealed that only 20% of children with deafblindness of primary school age attended school. Children with deafblindness of primary school age were two to three times less likely to be enrolled in primary school compared to children with other disabilities (66% enrolled) and children without disabilities (75% enrolled).
Similarly, only 16% of children with deafblindness attended secondary school. Children with deafblindness of secondary school age were half as likely to be enrolled in secondary school as children with other disabilities (36% enrolled) and three times less likely to be enrolled compared to children without disabilities (49%). For data on individual countries, see Table 3, Annex 1.
For those children with deafblindness that are in school, many are only offered places in ‘special schools’ which are segregated from the general population, and which increase social exclusion and isolation. The quantitative research did not indicate whether children with deafblindness or children with disabilities were in segregated or mainstream education. Also, it did not explore the attendance or retention rates for children with deafblindness.
The quality of education is difficult to measure statistically for children with deafblindness. For example, literacy and numeracy are determined through children performing tasks that are based on written materials, such as reading a sentence or performing mathematical calculations. Because these tasks are not provided in accessible formats, such as Braille or through tactile signing, they do not provide a true picture of the quality of education for children with deafblindness. In addition, learners with deafblindness have diverse requirements, for example, pre-lingual and post-lingual learners may require different learning strategies, and many curricula are fixed and inflexible, making it difficult for teachers to meet the individual needs of learners. Moreover, teachers are often not trained in deafblind communication, which significantly affects learners with deafblindness[iii]. Finally, learners with deafblindness often require assistance in their learning, recreational and social activities, basic care, and in moving around the school.
Among children with deafblindness (aged 3-4 years), only 20% were considered to be developmentally on track, according to the Early Childhood Index. This index is used to track the implementation of the SDGs and includes the domains of literacy-numeracy, physical functioning, social-emotional development, and learning. Children with deafblindness were almost half as likely to be developmentally on track compared to children with other disabilities and three times less likely compared to children without disabilities. The proportion of children with deafblindness that were developmentally on track decreased by country income level, from 40% in the upper middle-income countries to 13% in low-income countries – a trend that was similar for children with other disabilities and children without disabilities.
Many countries are transitioning from segregated education to inclusive education models and updating education laws and policies to comply with the CRPD, and children with deafblindness must not be left out of the discourse on the transition from segregated education to inclusive mainstream education. However, placing children with deafblindness in mainstream schools without the appropriate supports is not inclusive education. This includes appropriate rehabilitation supports (e.g., the ability to communicate or to perform basic life skills) and educational and social supports (e.g., teaching assistants, adapted curricula, family sensitisation, etc.). Therefore, the definition of inclusive education for children with deafblindness includes individualised support measures, learning deafblind communication methods, education delivered in modes and means of communication for the individual, facilitation of orientation and mobility, access to assistive devices and technologies, and access to live assistance[i]. Educational systems transitioning from segregated models should ensure these measures are in place in order to ensure a smooth transition for children with deafblindness.
Because children with deafblindness are at higher risk of exclusion from education than others[ii], legal and policy frameworks should make explicit reference to learners with deafblindness, and their requirements based on input from persons with deafblindness and their families. In addition, laws, policies, or administrative procedures that prohibit or have the effect of blocking the enrolment of children with deafblindness in mainstream inclusive schools, such as a blanket capitation on learners with disabilities, should be rescinded and replaced with an inclusive model of education[iii].
Early identification and referral programmes should link with early childhood education programmes because early intervention is critical for improving educational, cognitive, and social outcomes for children with deafblindness and to ensure that children have basic life skills and the ability to communicate[iv]. Where early education is in short supply, community-based support to transition children with deafblindness to primary school may be needed, especially if intervention programmes have been insufficient or if identification of deafblindness or rehabilitation was delayed. Home-based education with support from special education teachers from local schools and an adapted curriculum can enable parents and caregivers to help their children become school-ready, learn essential life skills, and help to establish links between families and schools at the earliest stages in low-resource settings where early childhood education programmes are oversubscribed[v]. Guidelines for parents, teachers, and rehabilitation professionals on this home-based support model will help to ensure quality standards are met. However, steps should be made to include children with deafblindness in inclusive mainstream early education programmes and ensure early intervention is integrated into them.
In addition, some children with deafblindness, such as children who use sign languages, require adapted teaching practices to ensure social and cultural development in respect to their language. Sign language users are a linguistic minority group, and teaching practices should adopt a bilingual framework to address the linguistic, social, and cultural factors that affect children with deafblindness. Most importantly, all children with deafblindness must not be deprived of language exposure during the critical period of language acquisition[vi].
WFDB aspires to achieve the inclusion of persons with deafblindness in education systems and society, whilst also respecting the individual decisions and preferences of every person with deafblindness in that matter. It is vital to respect the freedom of choice of every individual and ensure that no child or adult with deafblindness is without the necessary supports and adaptations.
The main elements for inclusive education of children with deafblindness in mainstream schools at all levels of education include:
Teaching assistants are as essential to learners with deafblindness as interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters are to adults with deafblindness. Cadres of teaching assistants do not exist within all free education systems. As with interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters, technical and ethical guidelines, training and certification programmes, role profiles, service agreements, and formal professional status need to be established for teaching assistants, and pilot programmes can help to demonstrate their added value while these systems are being developed. In addition, education ministries should liaise with OPDs on the diverse needs of different groups of persons with disabilities, as teaching assistants can be utilised to support children with all types of disabilities[viii].
Even when education is provided to children with deafblindness, as adults, they often miss out on many of the skills and benefits of education. Therefore, learning programmes for adults with deafblindness can support employment, apprenticeship, secondary school credit, post-secondary education, and further independence. These learning programmes for adults are most successful if delivered as one-on-one or small group instruction using the communication modality used by the student and not one that is imposed upon them. For example, in Canada, the curriculum for a literacy programme for persons with deafblindness covers basic computer training, numeracy, measurement, recognition and classification, data management and probability, filling out forms, reading comprehension, writing skills, job readiness, managing schedules, working with others, budgeting, problem solving, resume writing, and community partner referrals and resources. Methods of communication are also covered as well as using assistive technologies. While the programme has some similarities to vocational training, it is aimed at learners whose literacy skills are below Grade 12 (upper secondary) but who are older than school age[ix]. These programmes can help persons with deafblindness to fill key gaps in their education and qualifications should be involved in developing adult education programmes.
[i] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, A/RES/61/106, 13 December 2006, Article 24; Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, General Comment No. 4 on Article 24 – the right to inclusive education, CRPD/C/GC/4, 25 November 2016, para. 35.c.
[ii] Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, General Comment No. 4 on Article 24 – the right to inclusive education, CRPD/C/GC/4, 25 November 2016, para. 6.
[iii] Ezzat, Amal, “Advocating for the Right to Education for Learners with Deafblindness and Multiple Disabilities in Egypt”, DBI Review, Number 61, July 2018, p. 5-8.
[v] Sense International, A Baseline Survey on the Inclusive Education Project in Greater Masaka: Final Report, 8 October 2020; Sense International, A Review of Sense International Tanzania’s teaching Assistant Approach to Inclusive Education: Research Summary Report, 2020; VIHEMA, Report on Findings from the Assessment of Care Givers of Children with Deaf-Blindness in Malawi: A Case of Machinga District, 28 October 2020.
[vi] Higgins, Michale, and Lieberman, Amy. “Deaf Students as a Linguistic and Cultural Minority: Shifting Perspectives and Implications for Teaching and Learning”, J Educ (Boston), Vol 196, Issue 1, January 2016, p. 9-18.
[vii] Brady, L. Beth. “Quantitative Analysis of Classroom Communication Environments for Learners with Deafblindness”, The Journal of Special Education, Hammill Institute on Disabilities, 1-12, 2021; Carter, Gill. “Lessons on deafblindness form research in East Africa”, DBI Review, Issue 63, April 2020, p. 52-54; Dhale, Zamir. My life as a person with deafblindness, www.sedbindia.org, October 2021, p. 3; Haga, Frederick, Literature Review on Schemes for Service of Learning Support Assistants, supplied by Sense International, accessed May 2022; Higgins, Michale, and Lieberman, Amy. “Deaf Students as a Linguistic and Cultural Minority: Shifting Perspectives and Implications for Teaching and Learning”, J Educ (Boston), Vol 196, Issue 1, January 2016, p. 9-18; Ireland’s National Council for Special Education, Information for Parents/Guardians of Children and Young People who are Deafblind / with dual sensory loss, https://ncse.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/NCSE-Deafblind_Information-for-Parents-Guardians-002.pdf, accessed May 2022; Sense International, A Review of Sense International Tanzania’s teaching Assistant Approach to Inclusive Education: Research Summary Report, 2020; Sense International, Monitoring Report on Implementation of Early Years Competence Based Curriculum for Learners with Diverse Disabilities, May 2020; Sense International Romania, E-Sense, https://surdocecitate.ro/en/e-sense/, accessed May 2022; and VIHEMA, Report on Findings from the Assessment of Care Givers of Children with Deaf-Blindness in Malawi: A Case of Machinga District, 28 October 2020.
[viii] Haga, Frederick, Literature Review on Schemes for Service of Learning Support Assistants, supplied by Sense International, accessed May 2022.
[ix] CNIB, Literacy Programme, https://deafblindservices.ca/programs-and-services/literacy-program/, accessed May 2022.
OPDs and NGOs
Donors and Research Institutes