Inclusion Now 66

Intersectional approaches to inclusive education under UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

By Maresa Mackeith and Michelle Daley

Collage of two photographs, one of each author at work. Maresa teaching in a school and Michelle at an ALLFIE Young person's training event


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) Article 24 on Education, talks about the importance of having the right support in school:

“In realizing this right, States Parties shall ensure that: Effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion” (UNCRPD Article 24 on Education, Paragraph 2e).

Maresa Mackeith refers to the realisation of Article 24 in practice, through her own school experience and the type of support she had. Maresa’s experience demonstrates the importance of understanding the UNCRPD from an intersectional persective, to influence policy and practice and ensure that we move towards inclusive education and achieve social justice and human rights for all Disabled people, in all areas of our lives.

Supporting Maresa to achieve inclusive education, it was necessary to recognise her rights as a Disabled child (under UNCRPD Article 7 on Children With Disabilities), respecting her gender as a girl (under UNCRPD Article 6 on Women With Disabilities), as well as her rights to independent living to make choices and be in control of her own support (under UNCRPD Article 19 on Living Independently And Being Included In The Community). This illustrates that inclusive education cannot be achieved in isolation or by homogenising Disabled people’s experience and background.

Maresa’s experience

When I was finally accepted into a mainstream school, I was so excited. I was eleven and had been at my special school since I was five. My special school did not believe in my communication system, so I was not receiving much that was appropriate for my age. I had had two years of one day a week in a primary school which I enjoyed, made friends and learned a lot but because it was only one day a week, I could not keep up. So, to be accepted to go full time to a mainstream school seemed wonderful.

Unfortunately, the SENCO at the new school did not believe in my communication system either. Her attitude was that if she did not know about it, it was not worth knowing about.  She wouldn’t let anybody teach the assistants.

It seemed clear to me that the SENCO did not want me in that school. She did not want to know how I communicated and did not want the assistants at the school to learn about what I could do. I spent a lot of time away from the classrooms, alone with assistants who didn’t know anything about me.

The two years I spent there were awful although some of the young people did try to make friends with me. I felt isolated and hopeless.

I then had a few months at home recovering from an operation. I eventually got a teacher at home who said she would find a school for me.

The attitude of the next school was completely different. They acknowledged what they did not know and asked for our help. We taught them the skills needed to assist me and were involved in the recruitment of my assistants. They were excited about learning new skills and ways of including me.

The two years I spent there opened up worlds for me. Time was given for the young people to learn my communication system and time was given to encourage the young people to get to know me.

This school gave me the confidence to go on to Further Education College and then to university.  I learned so much and I still have a friend from that school over 20 years later.


Maresa’s experience highlights an example of what the UNCRPD is calling for, and the reasons why we need Article 24 implemented in our domestic law, to achieve inclusive education as a right for all within mainstream education in the UK. Inclusive education within mainstream educational provisions shouldn’t be an isolated experience, it should be the norm.