Expanding Academic Advancement Opportunities
January 8, 2013
Tokyo Foundation Policy Proposal on Higher Education for Individuals with Disabilities
Encouraging Social Participation of Individuals with Disabilities
People with disabilities are frequently regarded as disadvantaged members of society requiring special assistance. The share of disabled people (including elderly persons requiring nursing care and those with dementia) in the general population, though, is thought to be as high as between 10% and 15%. The line between "healthy" and "disabled" is becoming an increasingly blurred one; general perceptions of a “disabled person” in Japan, though, continue to be defined in terms of whether or not a person holds a disability certificate issued by a local government.
Individuals should not be deprived of opportunities for participation in society simply because of a disability; measures are needed to ensure that skilled and motivated individuals with disabilities can participate just as fully as people free of disabilities. This would result in greater benefits for society as a whole, leading to an expansion of consumption, income, and tax revenues and reductions in welfare expenditures.
Challenges to Be Overcome
Government policy regarding people with disabilities has been undergoing a review since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009, as Japan's Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities was amended in 2011 to include provisions for "reasonable accommodations." While support measures have been upgraded to provide equal opportunities during mandatory education and in employment, they remain woefully inadequate in the domain of tertiary education. Support for students with disabilities is currently provided largely through the private initiative of a limited number of faculty members and student volunteers.
At institutions of higher learning, students with disabilities make up a mere 0.3% of the total student body. While the percentage has been inching upward over the past few years, the small share represents a major barrier to the expansion of opportunities for social participation.
There are three main factors discouraging advancement to university-level education. The first is the lack of information on the kind of assistance available following enrollment. The second is the lack of coordination between universities on the one hand and high schools and potential employers on the other. And the third is the reluctance to shoulder the anticipated higher costs of accommodating students with disabilities. Policy measures to remove these three barriers would encourage more people with disabilities to opt for a university education.
Summary of Recommendations
1. Promote fuller information disclosure and establish standards by which to assess and compare initiatives undertaken by each university
Amend the School Education Law and the Incorporated National Universities Law so schools are obligated to disclose their initiatives in support of students with disabilities. Such disclosures, moreover, should be made in a manner that facilitates comparisons by third parties; the format used for the disclosure of local government budgets might be a good reference.
2. Obligate the establishment of an organization at each school to assist students with disabilities
Amend the School Education Law and the Incorporated National Universities Law so schools are obligated to establish an organization—such as an office—to offer advice, assistance, and other “one-stop” disability student services.
3. Add “disability friendliness” to the list of items by which universities are evaluated
The number of students and alumni with disabilities should be considered as an item in university evaluation surveys.
4. Prioritize budgetary allocations for “Centers of Inclusive Higher Education”
Such centers would help other universities lacking know-how in coping with students with disabilities; offer staff training or dispatch personnel; organize orientation programs for faculty members; and enhance coordination among schools, welfare groups, and employers. They would also develop and offer placement services for human resources with specialist knowledge and skills in assisting students with disabilities.
5. Improve working conditions for assistance personnel and clarify basic principles and guidelines on accommodating students with disabilities
Improve working conditions and enhance employment security for personnel of organizations providing assistance. Create basic principles and guidelines on accommodating students with disabilities, outlining the reasons for such assistance and how it may be advanced.
6. Offer certification to outstanding disability service faculty members
Assistance for students with disabilities can be enhanced by nurturing faculty members with specialized knowledge and skills.
7. Offer incentives to expand the number of student assistants
Incentives should be introduced to encourage more students to offer disability assistance. Those volunteering more than a certain number of hours, for instance, may have a portion of their teaching license exam waived, be entitled to preferential scholarship treatment, and have hours served credited toward their degrees.
8. Increase the number of teachers with disabilities
In adhering to legally mandated standards for the percentage of employees with disabilities, universities should be made to distinguish between employees who are faculty members and those in other positions. New curricula should be established to encourage more students with disabilities to pursue a teaching career.
9. Smoothen the transition from high school to college and then to employment
Make acquisition of a special school teaching license mandatory for all instructors at schools for students with special needs. Also, phase in an obligation for companies to disclose data regarding the employment of workers with disabilities and the number who leave the workforce within three years of employment.
10. Create an institution for consolidated management of textbooks and other teaching materials
To ensure the right to education for those who cannot access text data, an institution should be established for consolidated management and distribution (for a fee) of textbooks and other teaching materials for students with disabilities. Copyright laws should be amended to clarify such an institution’s powers and responsibilities.