Millions of children with disabilities are missing out on education. Like me, they deserve to fulfill their potential

When I was 9 years old, a psychologist told my parents I had a low IQ because I was born with Down syndrome.

a woman wearing a suit and tie: Brina Maxino.

© Courtesy Maxino family
Brina Maxino.

Seven years later, I graduated high school as class valedictorian. At the age of 20, I received a bachelor’s degree in arts with a major in history. Today, I am a pre-school assistant teacher, a Special Olympics Global Youth Ambassador and Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger. I am also the 2020 UNESCO Global Champion for Inclusion in Education.

I don’t think about what that psychologist said when I was a child, but I wonder how many children with disabilities are not fulfilling their potential because someone once said they couldn’t.

We can be more — and do more. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The recently released “2020 UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report” (GEM) states that children and youth with disabilities are among the most marginalized and excluded people in the world. The same report says they are 2.5 times more likely never to attend school in their lifetime than other children. An estimated 650 million people are living with disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region alone — this means millions of children are missing out.

Up to half of the roughly 65 million primary and lower secondary school-age children with disabilities in developing countries were already out of school before the Covid-19 pandemic. No country was prepared for Covid-19, but I feel more could have been done to protect children who were already marginalized before school closures began.

The GEM Report found that about 40% of low and lower-middle income countries did not support them during temporary school shutdowns. Children with disabilities were — and still are — disproportionately affected.

Distance learning also hasn’t been designed with us in mind. This leaves these children in danger of falling behind or withdrawing from education altogether.

December 3 marks International Day for Disabled Persons — a time to celebrate people with disabilities. The day also falls in the same week as the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is an important moment on the calendar to remind policy makers that most countries have committed to protecting the right to education for millions of disabled children.

Early on, I made a choice: to either accept unfairness or to advocate for our rights. As a person with disabilities, the challenges I have been faced with helped shape me — they have made me resilient, and most importantly prepared me to fight for the rights of others who are disadvantaged.

Despite my challenges, I persevered. I proved that with determination, hard work, belief in myself, and the love and support of my family, I can achieve my dreams and inspire others to do so.

As an assistant teacher, I am confronted daily with the challenges of Covid-19. Yet amid all the uncertainty and hardship created by the pandemic, there have been positive initiatives from around the

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NC Museum of Natural Sciences plans virtual STEM career showcase for students with disabilities ::

The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences is taking its STEM Career Showcase for Students with Disabilities virtual this year. The eighth annual event is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The program is free for students in sixth to 12th grade. During the event, they’ll get to hear from professionals with disabilities who have thriving careers in STEM fields (that stands for science, technology, engineering and math).

This year’s showcase will feature keynote speaker Gina-Maria Pomann, a statistical research scientist and the director of the Duke Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design Core. Ed Summers, a blind software engineer and an accessibility specialist who is director of accessibility at SAS, will serve as moderator of a panel discussion.

As part of the event, students will have the opportunity to learn about how the panelists’ lived experiences and diverse perspectives shaped their unique approaches to navigating and pushing boundaries in their fields, according to the museum. There also will be time for questions.

To participate in the 2020 STEM Career Showcase, you’ll need to register through the museum’s website. ASL interpretation and live captioning will be provided for the entire program and for each breakout room, according ot the museum.

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