Monday 7 September, 2015. This International Literacy Day (Tuesday 8 September), the Australian High Commission joins the Pacific Disability Forum, University of the South Pacific and development partners in highlighting the importance of literacy to people with disabilities. Celebrated every 8 September, the international day highlights literacy as a human right and foundation for learning.
“Being able to read and write is at the very heart of learning,” said Australian High Commissioner, Margaret Twomey. “This International Literacy Day, we remember that literacy is for everyone – including girls, women and people with disabilities.”
According to Ms Twomey, the Australian Government’s aid program recognizes that excluding people with disabilities undermines social and economic development.
“This week we draw attention to four students with disabilities currently studying at USP – Savita, Epeli, Edwin and Ari, who are amongst 30 students with disabilities studying at USP,” Ms Twomey said.
With support from the Australian Government through its partnership with the University of the South Pacific, the Disability Resource Centre provides a space for studies, specialised learning equipment and support from student volunteers. The initiative is part of the university’s commitment to make its facilities and courses accessible under its Disability Inclusiveness Policy adopted in 2013.
“Our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently launched the second phase of Australia’s disability-inclusive development strategy, Development for All: 2015-2020, which supports improved access to and quality of education for people with disabilities”, said Ms Twomey. “In the Pacific, this means partnering with national governments, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the University of the South Pacific for stronger, more inclusive education systems that improve student learning outcomes and livelihood prospects.”
The Australian-funded Access to Quality Education Program (AQEP) works to ensure the most disadvantaged students, including those with disabilities, can enrol and finish primary school in Fiji. The Australian Government’s Fiji Community Development Program (FCDP) has also supported assistive technologies and training for organisations like the Fiji School for the Blind. The Australian High Commission’s Direct Assistance Program (DAP) has also supported Read to Lead, a nationwide initiative to deliver over 185,000 children’s books to all of Fiji’s 732 primary schools.
“We are inspired by the achievements of Savita, Epeli, Edwin and Ari at university, all made possible through their diligent efforts in literacy and the encouraging attitudes of their families, teachers and friends,” said Ms Twomey. “We wish them all the best in their studies and commend USP for its ongoing efforts to ensure a learning environment that is accessible for all.”
Speaking on behalf of the Pacific Disability Forum, the Chief Executive Officer, Mr Setareki Macanawai said that persons with disabilities like everyone else want to go to school, have a good education, get a decent job and live a happy life.
“For persons with disabilities to achieve all of these, literacy plays a very important part, and we therefore must be taught and learn relevant verbal and written communication skills according to our various learning needs such as sign language and braille,” said Mr Macanawai.