By Raya El-Hajjar, age 14

Only a little more than half of New York City students with disabilities graduated high school in 2021, significantly less than the 81% graduation rate citywide. This disparity could be largely attributed to the lack of support students with special needs are given in many schools. 

For students with mobility concerns, schools lacking elevators, wheelchair accessible ramps or bathroom stalls are not an option. Those who have cognitive disabilities find roadblocks caused by a lack of staff available to provide them with the extra support they require. As a result, almost 18,000 eighth graders across the city have been left with few or no options.

The New York City Department of Education states that “every high school is expected to welcome and serve students with disabilities.” However, according to the School Construction Authority, only 73% of New York City high schools are considered “accessible.” This includes buildings that are only partially accessible, meaning many of these buildings are not suitable for all kids with disabilities. 

“Inclusive education cannot be considered a luxury.”

Maria Alexandrova, a UNICEF youth advocate for inclusive education from Bulgaria.

Kathy Hochul, governor of New York state, pledged $240 million in January to fund private schools which serve children with disabilities. However, Hochul then vetoed a bill that would make state funding for these private schools equal to that of public schools, which limited the effects of her previous decision. 

A recent UNICEF report found that over 240 million kids around the world are living with a disability. Of them, 47% do not attend elementary school, and 27% are not able to attend high school. Advocates are still pressing for more to be done. “Inclusive education cannot be considered a luxury,” said Maria Alexandrova, a UNICEF youth advocate for inclusive education from Bulgaria. “No child, especially the most vulnerable, should have to fight for their basic human rights alone. We need governments, stakeholders and NGOs to ensure children with disabilities have equal, inclusive access to education.”