Professor Dina Kiwan, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Education

Some 85% of children with disabilities in Low- and Middle Income Countries have never attended school – but that could change thanks to a major new research project.

‘Disability Under Siege’ will contribute to research efforts by providing intellectual and logistical resources that local practitioners need to transform education provision for children with disabilities in conflict-affected countries.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced investment of £147 Million for international development research programme awards, which includes an award of £2.5 million from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to the four-year co-created research project.

Disability Under Siege will support local stakeholders and practitioners in Jordan, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to deliver a transformational step change in education provision for children with disabilities.

Led by experts at the University of Birmingham, the project unites researchers from Birzeit University (Palestine), Islamic University of Gaza (Palestine), Centre for Lebanese Studies (Lebanon) and Birmingham City University.

The project will be delivered via a “Network Plus” model which will engage a diverse set of individuals, practitioners and institutions active in the field of disability across Jordan, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Project lead Professor Dina Kiwan, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Education, commented:

“Tackling access to education is critically dependent on how disability is understood and conceptualized in different cultural contexts.

“Disability is a contested concept and how disability is understood in the various domains of health sciences, law, religion and culture underpins education policy and practice as well as the prioritisation and allocation of scarce resources.”

The link between conflict, disability and access to education has been under-examined, with little literature focusing on the issue of disability in the field of Education in Conflict and Crisis research.

Even in countries with almost universal primary education, there is a high ratio of disabled: non-disabled out-of-school children. These findings suggest that initial access may be an important factor to address children with disabilities who are out of school, and that educational policies and practices are not addressing challenges to disabled children attending school.

Disability Under Siege Project Investigators have identified and prioritised understanding, challenging and co-producing new and contextualised ways of understanding disability as essential in addressing the challenges of implementing inclusive education - a global problem exacerbated in LMICs and further compounded in contexts of conflict and crisis.

Changing the way people think about disability and enabling inclusive learning is one of the key aims of the Disability under Siege Project. The team will achieve this by strengthening the evidence base and improving public understanding and perceptions of these subjects.

The programme will also develop interdisciplinary literature drawing from social movements literatures, social and cognitive psychological theories of attitudinal change, coupled with the inter/multi-disciplinary humanities, social science and medical literatures on disability, the body and affect.

The Disability Under Siege Network will place a strong emphasis on the production of research informed outputs that improve the ability of education providers to deliver their services. It will also reach beyond front line educators by creating policy briefings (NGOs and governments) and public engagement deliverables using visual media such as film, performance and literary festivals.

The Disability Under Siege Project has also received supplemental funding to collaborate with the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) to develop a research-informed analytical framework and methodology for a disability-inclusive recovery from COVID-19. This research will promote and support the implementation of disability-inclusive responses and recovery activities resulting from COVID-19 impacts and will be disseminated to governments and NGOs and grassroots disability activists and organisations.

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