Speaker: Sean O' Longain, Donegal VEC
In his presentation, Sean O'Longain discussed how the development of special education in Ireland has been facilitated and reinforced by developments and changes of the law in Ireland.
The historical importance of education to policy makers and citizens in Ireland has been emphasised in numerous legislative documents and government policies. Article 42 of the Irish Constitution provides for the rights of individuals to access free primary education.
In 1996, the Report of the Commission of the Status of People with Disabilities stated that every child is educable and that all children, including those with disabilities, should have a right to free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. The Commission Report further states that all schools have a responsibility to serve children with disabilities.
Since 1996, there have been many developments in response to the challenge to schools and the education system to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The Education Act of 1998 requires that every person in the state has access to appropriate education at primary, post-primary, adult, continuing and vocational education levels. This requirement to access includes any child with a disability.
It further provides the definition of 'disability' and defines the role of the Minister, the schools and its Board of Management in providing for students with disabilities. The legislation has the potential to be used as a platform from which to launch court challenges. Such challenges have to date generally been upheld.
The Equal Status Act 2000 further prohibits educational establishments from discriminating against students with disabilities. More recently, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 deals with the practical issue of implementation in addressing the special educational needs of students. Some of the requisite elements in addressing need are: an individual educational plan for the student provided by the school; an individual assessment of the student; a means for appeals; the actual provision of services.
However, the 2004 Act does not contain express provisions or make any specific recommendations for persons with disability after 18 years of age and in fact defines its remit as being for "children". In Mr. O'Longain's view, the issue of adult and further education is vital to the social and economic development of the individual.
The challenge for adult education support services was recognised in the National Disability Authority's report: "Towards Best Practice Report in the Provision of Employment, Further Education and Training Services". Fortunately, VECs have established a range of further education programmes. Some of these are: Youthreach Programmes (15-18 years), Vocational Training Opportunity Scheme (YTOS) and Post Leaving Certificate Programmes (PLCs).
Mr. O'Longain concluded with a number of recommendations for adult and further education for persons with disabilities. They are: