Inclusive Education in an Urban Environment

Urban schools are one of the best places to promote inclusive education. Children with disabilities are among the most marginalized groups across all countries, and they are most likely to be excluded from education. When these children do attend school, an inaccessible learning environment and a lack of support from their peers and teachers hinders their education.

Given that cities host such a wide variety and range of people, more children with disabilities are likely to live and go to school in urban centers. Ensuring that schools are disability-friendly and accessible for all keeps certain marginalized groups from falling behind. Addressing accessibility and inclusion in the class room will also have far-reaching effects on urban issues like poverty.

Special education teachers are often underpaid and under-appreciated in schools, but the work that they do is vital to including all children into the education curriculum. Ensuring that these teachers continue to get trained and have access to the resources and support they need is vital to extend the reach of education.

ICTs can also play an important role in bridging the education gap between PWD and other urban dwellers. Cities are often hubs of innovation and development, making them the perfect place for new technologies to be introduced into the classroom.

Although cities provide many opportunities for the extension of inclusive education such as a wide variety of resources, a diverse student population, and greater access to things like museums, musical events and other forms of the arts, urban schools also bring their fair share of challenges. These include things like low academic standards, poorly trained teaching staff, low graduation rates, high suspension rates, and schools that feed the school-to-prison pipeline.

These challenges need to be addressed at the state and municipal levels so that urban education can improve on all levels. Funding and proper pay is especially important when considering that childhood schooling sets the foundation for students to be active citizens that want to be involved in the community and in the wider economy. Ensuring that children with disabilities are included from the beginning sets the precedent that they deserve the same opportunities as the rest of their peers and that they have important skills and abilities that can make a difference.

Role of ICTs in Inclusive Urban Development

ICTs have uses in nearly every aspect of development, but they are especially important in urban development. Modern technology not only enables the implementation of the SDGs, but they also serve as a poverty reduction mechanism and a tool accessibility. ICTs can reduce the digital divide in urban settings and ensure that PWD and other vulnerable groups have avenues for participation and equity.

In terms of transportation and accessibility, ICTs are vital sources of effective and efficient communication. For instance, the Internet of Things, or machine-to-machine communication can be used to keep metros and buses running smoothly and in a timely manner. Apps for smartphones can be equipped with audio technology so that users can be alerted when their bus or train has arrived or of changes in schedules. ICTs can be used in emergent situations to notify people of hazards and evacuation routes so that they can get themselves to safety. These technologies have a multitude of other uses, but in every role, ICTs enhance the lives of users and enable them to live more independently.

Sustainability-wise, ICTs can be used to make cities more energy efficient and less dependent on dirty sources of fuel. ICTs can help create self-driving cars that are usable by anyone and everyone; they can create water sanitation services that effectively utilize wastewater; and they can help facilitate waste management systems that keep all areas of the city clean.

Developing cities to use smart ICTs in an inclusive manner requires intentional planning and development. A wide variety of stakeholders need to be involved at all stages of the planning process and there needs to be feedback mechanisms so that these technologies can be updated to meet the ever-changing needs of urban dwellers.

Ensuring Representative Multistakeholder Governance

When considering the importance of ensuring that a diverse range of people have opportunities to make their voices heard at global levels, it is vital to encourage this sort of multistakeholder participation to start at local levels. At their genesis, multistakeholder groups need accurately represent all invested parties so that they can carry their wants and needs to higher levels.

The inclusion of a wide variety of people at local levels makes state, national and global governance more nuanced and more tailored to people’s needs. This inclusion can also help answer complex and varied development issues that have been unsolvable in the past. Without local knowledge and understanding, policymakers and government officials are quite literally flying blind when it comes to implementing the “best” strategies.

A vital part of ensuring multistakeholder participation at all levels is dialogue and communication. Although these may seem like easy assurances at first, fair and equal conversation can be extremely difficult to facilitate between different people and groups. ICTs and translating services may aid in developing these constructive conversations.

Looking to incorporating local views into an international context, a consensus must be made on what development plan or project would most benefit the greatest amount of people. This is a messy process where it is true that not everyone will be pleased with the outcome, but no one should be harmed by it. There should also be various feedback mechanisms in place that allow policymakers to identify the successful and unsuccessful parts of governance and implementation.

Disability and the Urban Homeless Population

As I have continued to work on my final capstone project, I have come across the intersection between PWD and the urban homeless population time and time again. This segment of the population touches on an important aspect of disability that we have not talked about in class that much- psychological disabilities.

Though it is hard to pinpoint the exact number of those who are homeless in America that are living with a mental illness, estimates range from around a quarter to a third. At a global level, around 2% of the world population is homeless. What is more clear is that these debilitating illnesses usually go untreated and perpetuate the cycle of homelessness and joblessness.

Because these individuals are considered a part of the common cityscape, their suffering often goes unnoticed. As people consciously choose to ignore the plight of the homeless, they simultaneously want them to disappear without assistance from anyone else.

As cities grow, it is likely that the number of persons experiencing homelessness will rise as well. Cities exacerbate homelessness by raising the cost of housing and pushing those that can no longer afford to live in urban centers to the outskirts of society. Cities are not built for those with severe mental illnesses; they can be overwhelming, confusing and stressful.

At the same time, well-planned cities can provide access to public services such as health centers, employment training and shelters. Expecting homelessness to rise dramatically in the coming years, it is vital that municipal, state and federal governments take into account the needs of this population, especially considering that a large portion of them are living with a disability.

Bridging the digital divide

As we look to a future where more and more people will be living in urban centers that need to be denser and more efficient, it is easy to forget about those that are currently living in rural areas that are falling behind development-wise. We can easily become distracted by the shiny new buildings and technology in cities while pushing the needs of those on the outside of cities to the background. In order to ensure that all people have equal access to and usage of information and opportunities, we must extend ICTs to those that have been left out of the rapid adoption of new technologies. These so-called “have-nots,” including persons with disabilities, are at risk of falling through the cracks and being more at risk of poverty, under-education, and unemployment, among others.

Development-wise, this means extending internet access and high-speed broadband networks to areas far outside urban centers and in places where access has been limited in the past. It means creating community spaces such as public libraries and recreation centers that provide open use to computers and online resources. This also involves extending efficient, affordable public transit to suburban and rural areas so that even those who do not live in cities have access to them and all the opportunities they provide.

For persons with disabilities, ICTs can mean the difference between having the choice to live the life they want or not being able to choose at all. ICTs give PWD the chance to have equal access to employment, education and recreation while also providing a range of options for participation in these activities. In short, ICTs are a vehicle that can be used to guarantee human rights for all people, but especially PWD.

As our lives become more and more integrated with ICTs, we have to make sure that all people have access to this changing world so that no one is left behind.

How applicable are global frameworks to local issues?

After my presentation yesterday, I did a lot of thinking about how international frameworks are difficult to apply to local, municipal issues. These frameworks are usually broad and have no enforcement mechanisms. They are basically suggestions to countries and national governments for what they should or shouldn’t do.

Local governance is much different. Policies are specific, applied to certain segments of society, industry and the economy. They vary based on where they are located and what the people they affect need. International frameworks have little to no use in these cases because they are so non-specific and are not created to be used in a local context.

Although both of these governance levels are very different and are difficult to fit together, they do interact with each other in positive ways. Especially in regards to ensuring that PWD have their rights protected and advocated for, international conventions and agreements can serve as important starting points for the development of local policies. For example, the CRPD includes a comprehensive vision of governance, at any level, that provides for an anticipates the needs of PWD in a diverse range of settings that can be applied to different regions and governance structures.

So how do we bring these two very different governance mechanisms together? How to we bring the grand challenges at the international level to the local stage? The UN notes that the role of municipal governments in regards to international frameworks is implementation and enforcement. This is a vital part of the realization of international conventions like the CRPD because the UN and other global governance institutions are unable to put their policies into practice in local settings. Local governments enforce global treaties into their structure through adding them to their constitutions, bill of rights, or some other law. Another important role of local governments in the application of international frameworks is the monitoring of their effectiveness and implementation.

While international frameworks are sometimes hard to pare down into tangible goals for municipal and local governments, they play a vital role in providing the baseline on which these governments should base their tailored policies and laws off of. International frameworks are also helpful in that they are flexible enough to serve as building blocks for a vast range of areas instead of being rigidly contained in a small area of specific rules that must be adhered to.

Urban climate resiliency for all

The Dhaka Declaration was completed in May, 2018, and with it, the term “Nothing About Us Without Us” was coined. This Declaration was the first of its kind in terms of being entirely focused on persons with disabilities and the role they play in disaster risk reduction and management. This term encompasses PWD feelings of being excluded from previous frameworks and conventions that directly impacted them. It also fits perfectly within the main goal of Dhaka which is, “recognizing the inherent dignity, equal and inalienable rights of all human beings, to experience non-discrimination, protection, full accessibility and effective participation in decision-making processes, equalization of opportunities, individual autonomy and independence of PWD.”

Dhaka emphasized the importance of linking disability-inclusive disaster risk management with the SGDs on the understanding that inclusion builds the resilience of whole societies, safeguards development gains, and minimizes disaster losses. Urban planning is a monumental part of this document, at all governance levels: local, national and global. SDG11 is particularly important here as it connects sustainable, accessible and resilient urban development.

The entire concept of a city space being more resilient when it includes all people rests on the idea that diverse communities are able to better weather the storms (pun intended) and crises that hit them. When a city is able to safely and equitably accommodate PWD, evacuation routes are effective for everyone, the physical environment is better suited to shelter and protect people, transportation routes are clearer, and public offices are open to new ideas and participation from all kinds of people. In short, Dhaka emphasizes a people-centered approach to disaster risk management and reduction on all levels; one that ensures the meaningful participation, inclusion and leadership of PWD.

In order to make all areas, but especially urban centers, more resilient in the face of increasing intense weather events due to climate change, diversity and inclusion needs to be the center focus of urban planners. Urban areas need to be multi-use and open to everyone to allow for the effective functioning of all types of businesses, social and cultural activities with the ability to bounce-back after crises.