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02.12.2019 - Ausgabe: 6/2019

Inclusion - a fundamental right for all people of our society

By Prof. Dr. Kerstin Merz-Atalik (Education with disabilities and inequalities / Inclusion / Ludwigsburg University of Education)

© Kerstin Merz-Atalik

"Inclusion Education has become a global objective. The achievement of this objective will be supported by recognising the human right to education for all and the vision of a democratic society that values diversity in all its facets". (Powell/Merz-Atalik, 2020).


Universal human rights and dignity "for all"

In at least two centuries before and up to the Second World War, “the debate about human rights was not considering the concept of human dignity . In the North American and French revolutionary draft constitutions of the 18th century, which today are commonly accepted to have been the first declarations of human rights, you don´t find a reference to them" (see Human Rights Revue, 2010). It was only in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)[1] in 1948 that, for the first time, both concepts, human dignity and human rights, were interlinked. The UDHR are mainly based on three guiding principles: Equality, Liberty and Fraternity and apply to all individuals, regardless of their age, gender, ethnic origin or other dispositions. "

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." (UDHR, 1948) According to Eichholz (2015) "in Germany [...] the understanding of human dignity has been substantially affected by the experience endured in National Socialism. "You are nothing, your people is everything", was the guiding principle at that time which was the basis of human degradation and deprivation of rights of individuals and not least for the numbness of one's own personal conscience" (ibid., no page no.) which led to the mass murder of Jewish citizens and other ethnic groups who did not comply with the racist ideology. This included also more than 200,000 people who were ill or have had disabilities, in short, people whose life was considered as “worthless live[2]”. After the liberation from National Socialism there was a profound need to reinstall justice and the dignity of human beings. In 1949, it was the abandonment of National Socialism which shaped and characterised Article One of the Constitution of Germany: "Human Dignity shall be inviolable." To respect and to protect it shall be the duty of all state authority. (2). The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every human community, of peace and of justice in the world." (Article 1, 1949 BGBI, the Federal German Law Gazette). However, it was only in the year 1994 when the following amendment to Constitutional Article 3 was granted: "No person shall be disadvantaged because of their disability." And still, until now the equal right of life of people with disabilities is being called into question (as shown in the legislation in case of pregnancy) and disability is often considered to be an “encumbering expense factor” for society (see documentation on Bayern 3 (a German public TV station owned by Bayerischer Rundfunk, July 2019). Inclusion, participation and the prohibition of discrimination have still not been adopted in a comprehensive manner. Hence all questions in terms of equal rights and equal dignity are still virulent.


The right to equal participation in recreation, leisure, games and sports

In 1989 the universal human rights were specified in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The following is stipulated in Article 2, Section 1 and 2: 

“1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members." (UNCRC[3] 1989). 

Already the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 required to provide all children with suitable and equal possibilities for active recreation and leisure activity.

Article 31 thus stipulates: "(1) States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. (2) States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity." (UNCRC 1989). In addition, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD 2006[4]) specifies the following in Article 30, Section 5 about the participation in cultural life and recreation, leisure and sports: "With a view to enabling persons with disabilities to participate on an equal basis with others in recreational, leisure and sporting activities, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:

a) To encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels;

b) To ensure that persons with disabilities have an opportunity to organize, develop and participate in disability-specific sporting and recreational activities and, to this end, encourage the provision, on an equal basis with others, of appropriate instruction, training and resources;

c) To ensure that persons with disabilities have access to sporting, recreational and tourism venues;

d) To ensure that children with disabilities have equal access with other children to participation in play, recreation and leisure and sporting activities, including those activities in the school system." (UNCRPD 2006).


Contextual factors for inclusive school development in Germany

Compared to international and European countries, the inclusive school development in the German federal states is facing especially great challenges. While in the absolute majority of European countries a comprehensive school system has been developed for years according to which all children including those of secondary level 1 are being educated in accordance with the common educational plan (see Eurydice 2019), Germany is among the few countries in Europe, in which the pupils are selected towards different school types at the moment of transition from primary to secondary school (all in all 6 countries, including the four German-speaking countries). In the majority of European countries, as a general rule all students are being taught together in one school up to the eighth, ninth or even tenth grade which corresponds to the overall period of compulsory education (ibid). Only in Germany, Austria and Hungary different school forms have to be selected as early as in fourth grade (shortest possible joint school time). And so it is not surprising that also in a European comparison of the school attendance rates at schools for special education, Germany occupies a “leading position” because an average of 4.3 percent of the overall number of students (grades 1-10) attend schools for special education (National Report on Education of 2018). As a result we are in the third place compared with 30 European countries with an average of only 1.82 percent of all students attending special schools (EASNIE 2017). 

The result of that is not only that teachers in Germany are comparatively less well-prepared and have less experience in managing heterogeneity, but usually they also have an unbroken concept of normality, a model which considers the homogeneity of learning groups to the maximum extent possible as being the best starting conditions for learning. Besides the important professionalising of teaching staff for inclusive education, the conversion of resources will also be required as well as a clear legal priority position of inclusive education in school laws and the financial and personnel support of inclusive school development to ensure international compatibility. This also includes the infrastructure, such as school buildings and their surroundings.


The design of schools and schoolyards for inclusion and participation

What is the highest priority regarding the design of school buildings and school grounds in the context of inclusion? In order to ensure full participation justice for all students, first and foremost free accessibility to the most possible extent is required. This does not only concern children and adolescents with identified disabilities, but in general accessibility and participation for all. The missing constructional infrastructure and barrier-free accessibility in regular schools, which could be sustained  - despite the already long-existing regulations in the Housing and Building Law -  inter alia due to the German tradition and still dominating segregation of students with disabilities to special  schools, is frequently used as a practical argument against inclusion (see Merz--Atalik 2018b). Barrier-free accessibility is certainly an essential aspect of the "creation of an inclusive educational system" as required by the UNCRPD. But in addition, wide-ranging reforms and modifications of educational policy, administration and also when professionalising pedagogues and in practice are required at all levels. 

By focusing on the 4A Scheme or respectively the guiding principles for inclusive education of Katarina Tomasevski (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, 2002), the different aspects of barrier-free accessibility and participation are to be shown in an exemplary way regarding the design of school buildings, schoolyards and playgrounds. The 4A Scheme was selected because it provides a systematic structure for the development of indicators regarding the right to participation while, at the same time, allowing for an extensive supervision and evaluation of the overall spectrum of the human rights obligations in connection with the right to participate in education, recreation, leisure time, play and sports.


  • Availability (Availability of functional, inclusion-oriented recreational, leisure and play/sports environments);
  • Accessibility (Accessibility, i.e. non-discriminatory and barrier-free access to recreational, leisure and play/sports environments), 
  • Acceptability (Acceptability of play, sports and exercise offerings) and 
  • Adaptability (Adaptability with regard to the specific needs and requirements according to "the adequate precautions needed in a particular case" stipulated in the UNCRPD).


Picture shows a swinging unit of an inclusive comprehensive school in Reykjavik, which I was able to visit in the framework of the EU Comenius Project (see www.tdivers.eu, Merz-Atalik 2018,a). The special thing about it is that children may use it in different ways. On the one side it provides them with a diversity of swinging options (on tyres, tyres with reds, traditional swings, hanging devices for hammocks or other swing frames). The swings allow the children to use them either on their own, with two or even more game partners. They were installed next to each other and enable the children to observe, assist or inspire each other. The lawn is provided with an embedded rubber network which also enables persons with orthopaedic aids (such as crutches or prosthetic devices) or with wheel-chairs to access this area. In addition, the risk of injury can thus be minimised for all players and the area is also accessible during bad weather conditions. This school was newly built only a few years ago and is situated in the centre of a residential area (streets and houses are arranged in a circle around the school with its gym, an integrated but publicly accessible library and the school swimming pool). All facilities are accessible for the entire residential environment and can thus be used even after class

The play devices are accessible from all sides and stimulate diverse possibilities of exercise experiences while enabling all children to use them. Besides they can also be used to create joint game and learning situations. The devices are suitable for children of all age groups. Only very little previous experience is required to use them.

With a sustainable and swift inclusive-oriented and diversity-sensitive planning and design of play, sports and recreational offerings at schools, an important basis could be created to comply with the inclusive educational system required by the UNCRPD and the necessary school development. In the meaning of "nothing about us - without us!" it represents an invaluable resource to involve all stakeholders concerned (such as parents, children, teaching staff, pedagogues, therapists etc.) in the planning and design processes of open spaces and landscapes. With regard to barrier-free accessibility "experts in their own interest" should be consulted at an early planning stage (for instance through associations or self-representation networks of persons with disabilities, such as the Self-Determined-Life-Movement). Thus, the risk of a poor implementation of barrier-free accessibility can be reduced and in addition an optimum participation and acceptance by the population can be strengthened. Because with regard to inclusion we are all sitting "in class"!

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[2] “Unwertes Leben” (under the Nationalsocialistic Government). 

[3] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). 

[4] UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).


Eichholz, R. (2015). Anthropologische Grundlagen der Inklusion. Zeitschrift Für Inklusion, (1). Abgerufen von https://www.inklusion-online.net/index.php/inklusion-online/article/view/261 (10.10.2019)

Eichholz, R. (2018). Eine Schule für alle: Die inklusive Schule. In: Hurrelmann, K./ Rathmann, K. (Hrsg.): Leistung und Wohlbefinden in der Schule: Herausforderung Inklusion. Beltz Verlagsgruppe. 368-382

Merz-Atalik, K. (2018b). Von einem Versuch „der Integration der Inklusion in die Segregation“?! Länderbericht zur inklusiven Bildung in Baden-Württemberg. Zeitschrift Für Inklusion, (4). Abgerufen von https://www.inklusion-online.net/index.php/inklusion-online/article/view/508

Merz-Atalik, K. & Weber, K. (2018a). "Bringing you inspiring practices for inclusive education" - Das Comenius Netzwerk Projekt TdiverS: Teaching diverse learners in (school-)subjects. In: Mittendrin e.V. (Hg.): Materialien, Kongress 2017 "Eine Schule für alle". S. 33-37

Powell, J .W. & Merz-Atalik, K. (2020). Die Notwendigkeit inklusiver Bildung für die Erneuerung der Governancekonzepte: Deutschland und Luxemburg im Vergleich. In: Budde, J. (Hg): Inklusionsforschung im Spannungsfeld von Erziehungswissenschaft und Bildungspolitik. Leske & Budrich (Eingereicht)

Zeitschrift für Menschenrechte (2010): Philosophie der Menschenwürde. Wochenschau Verlag: Schwalbach i.T. 

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