Children with disabilities and special education needs are often excluded from mainstream education and segregated into special schools and classes, residential institutions or remain in their homes. Even worse, many children with disabilities are not enrolled in any education programmes. In this regard, progress across the CEE/CIS region has been uneven. In poorer CEECIS countries the proportion of children enrolled in basic special education declined during the 1990s.
A greater share of children in the CEECIS region are now identified as disabled, from around 500,000 at the onset of transition to 1.5 million, due largely to greater recognition of disability. However, between 1 million and 3.6 million children with disabilities are still not officially recognized, depending on data sources. In 2005, the benchmark established by the European Academy of Childhood Disabilities indicated that a disabled children rate of at least 2.5 per cent was the ‘norm’ (with 1 per cent having serious conditions). However, the WHO/World Bank World Disability Report of 2011 indicates that 5.1 per cent is a more accurate benchmark (with 0.7 per cent of children 0-14 years old with a severe disability) based on a wide range of datasets. The total child population in the region is estimated at just over 100 million, so according to the WHO/World Bank benchmark, around 5.1 million children are estimated to have a disability. In addition, in some CEE/CIS countries only around 1 per cent of basic education students are identified as having special education needs. These figures are even inflated in some countries as for example children from disadvantaged or socially vulnerable families, including Roma children, can also end up in special schools. This indicates that the needs of many if not most children across the broader range of disabilities and educational needs are not being addressed.
Disabled children are often segregated in special schools (or classrooms) rather than mainstream schools. This is related to the fact that across the region disability is seen primarily as a chronic medical condition requiring remediation, health care, rehabilitation and institutionalisation, with little differentiation made between disorder, impairment, illness and disability. At the same time there has been a shift internationally towards the adoption of a ‘social model’ of disability, and the recognition of the rights of people with disabilities rather than considering only the problems to be solved. This culminated with the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006. Progress remains patchy, but there has been some progress in integrating children with disabilities into mainstream schools in the CEECIS region, notably in Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Romania.