Access to quality education – a fundamental right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – remains elusive for many. For learners with disabilities (LWDs), the fight for accessible education can feel all the more bleak and dystopian. Systemic issues and a lack of specialized teachers relegates them to the margins, locking away their potential. Even worse, LWDs are ten times less likely to go to school than other children (Plan International, 2013). In fact, internationally, 9 in 10 learners with disabilities in low and lower middle income countries do not have access to education (Global Partnership Organization, n.d.). The Philippines is a prime example to these with 314, 000 or 71% of LWDs are considered out-of-school youth as per 2021 (Chi, 2023; Romero, 2021).

Learners with disabilities are defined as students with difficulty acquiring basic skills or academic content due to difficulty using or understanding spoken or written language (Council for Exceptional Children, n.d.). Even though the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes that all children deserve to access learning opportunities (Right to Education, n.d.), education remains highly inaccessible to able-bodied students, and is further inaccessible to LWDs. This deters the learners’ full development of their potential that is supposed to enable their effective participation in society (Right to Education, n.d.). As a result, LWDs go on to experience lack of representation, heightened susceptibility to exploitation, increased risk of poverty, and unemployment (Adabala, 2020). In fact, a 2023 report published by Rappler reveals that 80% of persons with disabilities in the Philippines are not employed.

What’s the scoop?


The current Philippine legal framework attempts to provide all learners with disabilities the accommodations needed for them to pursue education. This is exhibited in both the basic right of access to education for PWDs (Magna Carta for Persons with Disability, § 12) and other statutes which provide for specific accommodations which cater to the needs of LWDs, such as the Filipino Sign Language Act.

However, significant challenges remain in translating these laws into practice. In an interview, Ellen Gasendo, a parent of a learner with a disability, stressed the inaccessibility issues they faced while trying to access education. These issues include facing rejection from schools. “In senior high, they don’t accept [special needs students] anymore because their personnel were not trained to handle special needs students,” Gasendo emphasized.

According to Karina Castro, the principal of a school that caters to LWDs, students without disabilities, and gifted students, “In terms of inclusion, there are schools that say they are inclusive, but their programs are not really for inclusion. [The government] needs to look at the schools and oversee the implementation of inclusive programs.”

Financial barriers also pose an issue. The poverty rates are 50% higher in households with children with disabilities. Aside from expensive tuition, the inaccessible and costly health services challenge education access. “[Aside from tuition] we also have to spend for his therapy, his counseling, his regular sessions with his psychologist,” Ms. Gasendo commented. “Assessments are expensive. 10,000 is just a piece of paper. Iba ang babayaran sa speech therapy,” Ms. Castro added.

Moreover, issues with the lack of teaching manpower and lack of proactive initiative from the government dooms the system. In fact, in the 2024 national budget, the DepEd didn’t allocate a separate line item for the child find system (Chi, 2023). For the 2023 national budget, the 532 million budget proposal for the SPED program was not considered (Dela Pena, 2023).

Left out


The current education status can also be characterized as non-inclusive with the students feeling exclusion. Robin Velez, a current Atenean who was previously enrolled in a special education program, witnessed its shortcomings which stunted his growth as a learner.

“I think the special education class needs ways to help the kids [feel like they] are still human beings and not something that is separated from society, because that is how I felt back then with the intermediate section and the therapy session I attended,” He stated.

Families also feel discouraged in pushing their children to access education due to fear of discrimination. “We have to enhance their special ability. If you think na walang magagawa ang bata, you are the reason why the child can’t do anything else,” Castro noted.

Questioned quality


In addition, educational institutions struggle with limitations in teaching materials and difficulties in implementing specialized teaching. Ms. Castro emphasized the importance of having Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) crafted specifically for the students but also highlighted the difficulty of implementing these due to the lack of assistive tools. Furthermore, teachers often find themselves underpaid and overworked as they must also handle other tasks aside from teaching such as assessing and documenting the progress of their students.

“Heavier ang workload. Aside from making lesson plans and assessments and teaching, they also have the IEP so they have to modify the activities or content or approach. And then the teachers need to have proper documentation. If you are going to implement IEP, you have to document the progress of each student,” Castro said.

The lack of emotional and psychological support also bears deep in the teaching force. “The parents trust you to make a difference in the lives of the children. You can’t give them up. If you can’t get past that baggage, it’s heavy emotionally,” Castro mentioned.

What should be done?


Given the situation, Castro proposed that the government should provide better mechanisms aimed to heighten education accessibility. This includes providing teachers proper training, laying down standardized processes, providing proper facilities and assistive tools, and making assessments free. “Ang lungkot kasi ever since, meron na tayong special children. Pero andito pa lang tayo,” the principal concluded.

While existing laws promote the right to quality education for LWDs, significant work remains to ensure accessibility and inclusivity. Education is the backbone of a society, and the Philippines cannot afford to neglect this crucial sector. By addressing the learning gaps and implementing effective solutions, the Philippines can move towards a more inclusive and equitable education system.

Ateneo SPEED would like to thank Ms. Ellen Gasendo, Ms. Katrina Castro, and Mr. Robin Velez for their time and insights lent to this article.

The views and opinions of the writers and editors do not necessarily reflect or state those of the publication’s nor the organization’s.

References:

Adabala, S. (2020, January 13). 5 Consequences of not having access to education. The Borgen Project.

Alampay, E. G., Cureg, E., & Quebral, D. J. (2018). Enabling the Disabled (Project Report). Center for Local and Regional Governance.

An Act Declaring The Filipino Sign Language As The National Sign Language Of The Filipino Deaf And The Official Sign Language Of Government In All Transactions Involving The Deaf, And Mandating Its Use In Schools, Broadcast Media, And Workplaces – RA 11106 | National Council on Disability Affairs. (2018). National Council on Disability Affairs.

An Act amending Republic Act No. 7277, otherwise known as the “Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, and for other purposes” – RA 9442 | National Council on Disability Affairs. (2007). National Council on Disability Affairs.

An act to promote the education of the blind in the Philippines – RA 3562 | National Council on Disability Affairs. (1963). National Council on Disability Affairs.

BATAS PAMBANSA BLG. 232 - AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF AN INTEGRATED SYSTEM OF EDUCATION. - Supreme Court E-Library. (1982). Supreme Court E-Library.

Carraro, L., Robinsons, A., & Hakeem, B. (2022, September 1). The Cost of Raising Children with Disabilities in the Philippines. UNICEF Philippines.

Chi, C. (2023, September 28). DepEd urged to explain “missing” line item for learners with disabilities. Philstar.com..

Coleto, A., Sy, S., & Lipana, B. (2021). BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE AND RESILIENT SOCIETY THROUGH FILIPINO SIGN LANGUAGE (FSL) AND EDUCATION. Ateneo SPEED.

Council for Exceptional Children. (n.d.). Learning disabilities.

DepEdPH. (2021). Deped Order 44 : Educational Programs and Services for Learners with Disabilities | DepEd PH. DepEd PH.

DepEdPH. (2024, February 21). DepEd Orders in the Philippines - Comprehensive Guide | DepEd PH. DepEd PH.

Disability Inclusive Language Guidelines | The United Nations Office at Geneva. (2021). The United Nations Office at Geneva.

Global Partnership for Education. (n.d.). Inclusive education. Retrieved May 10, 2024

Heikkila, E., Davidson-Widby, B., & Tulivuori, J. (2022). Ten Steps to Give Children with Disabilities a Quality Education | Asian Development Blog.

House of Representatives. (n.d.). Legislative Information.

Ines, J. (2023, April 29). Still a long road ahead: PWDs struggle to join Philippine workforce. RAPPLER..

Peña, K. D. (2023, September 22). Zero budget for special education in 2023 makes SPED law ‘meaningless’ | Inquirer News. INQUIRER.net.

Plan International. (2013). Include Us! A study of disability among Plan International’s sponsored children. Right to Education Initiative. Retrieved May 10, 2024,

Presidential Decree No. 603, s. 1974. (1973). Official Gazette. Retrieved April 5, 2024

Press and Public Affairs Bureau. (2023). House approves P5.768 trillion 2024 national budget with emphasis on transparency, accountability. House of Represenatives..

Republic Act No. 10533. (2013). Official Gazette.

REPUBLIC ACT NO. 7277. (1992).

Reyes, C. L. A. (2023). A Systematic Review on the State of Special Education in the Philippines: Identifying Challenges, Gaps, and Future Directions.

Right to Education Initiative. (n.d.). Persons with disabilities.

Romero, P. (2021). Enrollment Of Learners With Disabilities Still Low This Year – Gatchalian. One News.

Salesforce (2023, January 26). 7 Strategies for Increasing Student Enrollment - Salesforce.org..

Special Education (SPED) Profile in the Philippines. (2023). Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department.

Sintos, M. (2020). Psychological Distress of Filipino Deaf: Role of Environmental Vulnerabilities, Self-Efficacy, and

Perceived Functional Social Support. Asia-Pacific Social Science Review, 20(3), 1–14.

THE 1987 CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES – ARTICLE XIV. (1987). Official Gazette.

UNICEF Philippines. (n.d.). Social policy and governance..

United Nations. (2023, October 19). Education - United Nations Sustainable development. United Nations Sustainable Development.

United Nations. (n.d.). Article 24 – Education.

United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (n.d.). NCDA..

Yang, A. Y. (2022, March 17). Philippines guarantees learners with disabilities with free basic education. Philstar.com.