Catia Malaquias joins international experts in Inclusive Education at the United Nations in New York

Catia Malaquias joined other international experts and advocates for inclusive education at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 21 March 2019 World Down Syndrome Day, where she spoke about students with disabilities in the Australian education system, and also moderated a panel discussion and interactive dialogue on “The Future of Inclusive Education”.  

 The World Down Syndrome event was focussed specifically on inclusive education and was co-sponsored by Down Syndrome International, Inclusion International and UNICEF.  Self advocate Marta Sodano from Italy gave a powerful account of her experience of inclusive education and the importance of high expectations and supportive peers.


International  experts and speakers on the day included Catalyst for Inclusive Education Chair Diane Richler, President of Inclusion International Sue Swenson, UNICEF Senior Adviser Rosangela Berman-Bieler and Harvard Professor Thomas Hehir, who authored the recent landmark review of international research on inclusive education, “A Summary of the Evidence on Inclusive Education” (2017).

In her speech, titled “Education of children with disabilities in Australia: The unrealised promise
 to ensure a universally accessible and inclusive education system”, Catia made the following points:

  1. Australia, is a federated nation of States each with its own government responsible for its own education system. However, the national government of Australia is responsible for “foreign affairs” which includes entering into international human rights treaties, and passing laws to implement its obligations under those treaties, such as obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD).
  2. Like many Western countries, Australia has an established “dual system” of education, characterised by a “mainstream” education system and a separate, disability-segregated system that consisted of, in the first instance, stand-alone “special” schools, and in the last 2 decades or so, has included segregated delivery of education in separate “units” and separate classrooms for students with disabilities within or next to mainstream schools.
  3. The separate system emerged for a range of reasons, but for children with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities, it was in part a response to their complete exclusion from the general education system.
  4. In Australia, children with complex disabilities – particularly intellectual disabilities – were excluded from public education well into the 1970s – and many parents advocated strongly for their education, although this was delivered in segregated special schools following the model of institutions.
  5. It was not until the 1990s that the notion of “equal access” to education for students with disabilities developed traction, and in 1994 the World Conference on Special Needs Education produced the Salamanca Statement that recognised the importance of inclusive education in regular schools.
  6. Finally, in 2006 the CRPD was adopted with Article 24 providing recognition of inclusive education as a right of students with disabilities.  This created the impetus for legal and policy reforms to support students with disabilities to access an inclusive education.
  7. Notably, the Australian government had enacted the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, which was amended in light of the CRPD.  Section 22 of this Act expressly prohibits discrimination by schools on the basis of disability, and requires that “reasonable adjustments” be made where necessary to support access by students with disabilities.
  8. At the policy level, State and national governments appeared to commit to inclusive education and to recognise that it is evidence-based practice for students with disabilities. But on the whole their efforts can be characterised as:
    • minimally adjusting existing systems that are fundamentally non-compliant with the CRPD, rather than reforming those systems from the ground up; and
    • to some extent, simply rebranding segregated delivery of education as “inclusive” or changing the way students are segregated by making it appear that they are within the mainstream system (eg segregated delivery next to or within mainstream schools).
  9. Not surprisingly, these steps have been ineffective to meet the requirements of Article 24 of the CRPD, a conclusion corroborated by indicators of a rise in educational segregation of Australian students with disabilities, in substantial concurrence with the period since the CRPD was ratified.
  10. General Comment No.4 by the CRPD Committee explains the meaning and scope of Article 24 on the right to inclusive education and the necessary steps for States to transition from “dual” parallel systems to a single universally accessible and inclusive education system for all students.
  11. While there are “beacon schools” across the government and private systems in Australia demonstrating quality inclusive models and practices, they do not reflect a whole of system standard. At best, most students with intellectual disabilities in Australia either experience “exclusion” (through increased suspensions and expulsions), “segregation” for the whole or part of the school week (this is the case for over 50% of students with Down syndrome) or “integration”, which means the onus is mainly on them to “fit in” and their access to mainstream is effectively conditional on their ability to do so.  Few experience authentic inclusion within the meaning of General Comment No.4.
  12. A lack of conceptual clarity about the meaning of “inclusive education” reflected at legal, policy and practice levels and the failure of successive federal and State governments in Australia to provide leadership on this issue and effective and comprehensive measures to ensure positive implementation beyond limited anti-discrimination prohibitions, helps to explain the current contextual deficiencies for students with Down syndrome and other disabilities in Australia.


Catia also attended the official United Nations presentation of this year’s World Down Syndrome Day video campaign “Reasons to Celebrate”, created by Italian Down syndrome association CoorDown, in partnership with Down Syndrome International and other Down syndrome associations including Down Syndrome Australia.  Catia was again part of the international team working directly with the creative directors, as she has done for each annual international video campaign since 2015. 

You can watch the video here:


On 19 December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day (A/RES/66/149), inviting “all Member States, relevant organizations of the United Nations system and other international organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, to observe World Down Syndrome Day in an appropriate manner, in order to raise public awareness of Down syndrome”.

Down syndrome is a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always been a part of the human condition, exists in all regions across the globe and commonly results in variable effects on learning styles, physical characteristics or health.

Catia Malaquias Wins 2018 Human Rights Award

The winners of the 2018 Human Rights Awards were announced yesterday at an event held at Sydney’s Westin Hotel, attended by almost 600 people and hosted by Australian Human Rights Commission President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher and the Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar, Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow, Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson and Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan.

Catia Malaquias won the Tony Fitzgerald Memorial Community Individual Award for her work in relation to equality, human rights and inclusion of Australians with disabilities and in particular the human right to inclusive education.  Catia is the founder of Starting With Julius and co-founder of All Means All – The Australian Alliance for Inclusive Education and the School Inclusion Parent Network (SIPN).  She also co-founded the Global Alliance for Disability in Media and Entertainment and sits on the boards of the Attitude Foundation and Down Syndrome Australia.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin (left) with Catia Malaquias (right)

You can watch Catia’s acceptance speech (video courtesy of Australian Human Rights Commission) here:


Here is the text:

Thank you, I am so honoured to receive this award and I’d like to acknowledge all the outstanding finalists, and thank the Australian Human Rights Commission for this recognition.

I would also like also to thank and acknowledge all the people who support me to do this work – family and friends, but in particular my husband Sam and my 3 children, Laura, Julius and Drea.  They’re not here today but they know too well the juggle that is advocacy, a separate day job and meeting the needs of a young family. 

Last but not least, I thank the disability community for the immense privilege of allowing me to stand with you for disability rights – your guidance, knowledge and generosity in sharing your perspectives have been critical to me both as a parent and as an advocate.

I’d like to shout out to all the inclusionistas– disabled people and families speaking up for the right of every child, including children with disabilities, to an inclusive education. A right that is recognised under international human rights law applicable to Australia; but which remains widely contested and frequently violated.

Inclusive education IS a human right; it’s the right to a universally accessible education system that responds to the diversity of ALL children; it’s the right to receive supports and accommodations in regular classrooms, in neighbourhood schools; it’s the right not to be segregated, in “special” places for “special” people, an insidious discriminatory practice that paves the way for life-long exclusion, marginalisation and disempowerment.

Inclusion is not a question of IF, it’s a question of WHEN.  And that “when” depends on all of us – it will happen when we all commit to supporting equality and ending discrimination against people with disabilities – when we call out systems and policies that not only facilitate, but still promote segregation and exclusion of disabled people in education, employment and other settings – when we commit to real opportunity and access, for everyone, at every level. 

Thank you.

The award was presented by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar

Professor Croucher also announced a 2019 National Summit on Human Rights and congratulated all the finalists and the award recipients.

“We are proud to recognise the outstanding contribution of individuals and organisations in promoting and protecting human rights and freedoms.”

The prestigious 2018 Human Rights Medal was awarded to the Honourable Justice Peter McClellan AM and Chrissie Foster, for their contribution to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Chrissie Foster has long campaigned for justice for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse and Justice McClellan led the five-year Royal Commission for five years. They both highlighted that child sexual abuse is a community problem requiring a whole of community response.

“We must to all we can to protect children…. And stop it from happening again,” said Justice McClellan.”

Saxon Mullins was awarded the Young People’s Human Rights Medal for her work in relation to the reform of sexual assault laws in New South Wales. Saxon told her story of sexual assault on national television which led to a review of New South Wales laws.

“I’m so glad that we live in a society where we are more willing to listen to women, but with that I can’t forget the reason that I’m up here. And I think the root cause of that is something we can all change.”

Other 2018 Human Rights Award winners are:

  • Community Organisation AwardAustralian Marriage Equality, for its work in championing the rights of LGBTI+ Australians and in the successful campaign for marriage equality.
  • Racism It Stops With Me Award: Nyadol Nyuon, a Melbourne based lawyer who is an advocate for the African-Australian community.
  • Media Award: NITV, for “Guilty of being stolen”, a powerful investigation which revealed that many children taken into state care — including Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families — acquired a criminal record as a result. 
  • Law Award: Professor Andrew Byrnes, who is one of Australia’s leading academics on human rights who has championed gender equality, the death penalty, older persons and disability rights.
  • Business Award: Konica Minolta Australia, for its leadership on modern slavery though its Ethical Sourcing Roadmap, that prioritises contracts with ethical suppliers.
  • Government Award: Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation, for their ground-breaking human rights policy and Reconciliation Action Plan, the first for a major sporting event in Australia.

You can read more on the website of the Australian Human Rights Commission: Winners announced – 2018 Human Rights Awards