Education systems

Equal access to national education, vocational training and lifelong learning systems

Educational settings - mainstream education
Education settings - special education
Collaboration between both systems

Teaching of compensatory skills made necessary by vision loss

Provision of accessible text books and other educational material

Provision of assistive technology


1. Equal access to:

1.1. National education system

The law of February 11, 2005, "for equal rights and opportunities, for the participation and the citizenship of people with disabilities" gave responsibility for the schooling of all disabled children to the services of the Ministry of National Education.

The law works on the principle that students affected by a disability must be able to be provided with schooling in the school nearest to their place of residence. If a specialist organisation is needed, which does not exist in the local school, the pupil can be registered in another school, in the mainstream or special sector. The institutions and services of the Ministry of Health and Social Security supplement the mainstream school system, when this system cannot meet the specific needs of the student. The Health Insurance system finances special schools and institutions. The Ministry of Education can, through a convention, dispatch teaching staff to these establishments. 180,000 disabled students were educated in the school system in the year 2009-2010, an increase of 30 % in a five year period.

1.2. National vocational training and lifelong learning systems

As is the case for the education system, the principal set out in the law of 2005 is to offer disabled people the possibility to be trained in centres run by the Adult Lifelong Training Association (Association pour la Formation Permanente des Adultes AFPA), which is the major mainstream training organisation. A convention signed between the government and the AFPA obliges the AFPA to accept disabled students. However, very few visually impaired students and no blind students have taken up this opportunity due to fact that the training methods and documents are not adapted.



2. Educational settings

2.1. Mainstream education (please specify what support measures if any)

The law of 11 February 2005 created a single centre in each geographic department intended to make the steps easier for disabled people: the Departmental Centre for Disabled People (MDPH). This offers, in each department, centralised access to the rights and services planned for disabled people. The MDPH "fulfils a mission of reception and information, gives support and advice to disabled people and their family, and makes all citizens aware of disability". Its missions are as follows:

  • Information about assistance
  • Listening and advice
  • Assistance in planning for the future
  • Assessment of needs for compensation
  • Development of a plan for compensation which matches the needs of the person
  • The attribution of compensation services by a commission, the Commission for the Rights and the Autonomy of Disabled People
  • Follow-up of compensation
  • Support and mediation, in particular at the time of onset and development of the disability.

2.1.1. Primary

Pupils with special educational needs normally attend mainstream schools. At primary school, Classes for School Integration (CLIS) cater for pupils who have mental, hearing, visual or motor disabilities, but who are able to benefit in conventional school surroundings from provision adapted to their age, ability and the nature and scale of their own particular disability.

From elementary school (at 6 years of age), school integration can be individual or collective:

   - Individual schooling consists of providing education for disabled pupils in an ordinary class. At all levels of teaching, individual schooling is the first choice.

   - Collective schooling consists of including in an ordinary school a special class with a limited number (in general 10 to 12) of visually impaired pupils. The pupils receive adapted teaching within the CLIS, and share some activities with the other pupils.

2.1.2. Secondary

UPI, or Educational Integration Units have been set up in the last few years in some secondary schools. These units are intended specifically for pupils with disabilities, with the specific purpose of ensuring that those who have attended CLIS progress smoothly from primary to secondary education. These pupils may thus continue to receive specially adapted provision in a mainstream school environment. The minister responsible for national education has decided to significantly increase the number of these units. 2000 such units are in existence in 2010. A particular effort was made in 2009 – 2010 for provision in the technical colleges.

2.1.3. University

A ‘University Charter' of 5 September 2007 establishes the principal of a ‘disability mission' in every higher-education establishment, with the aim of ensuring accessibility to both the teaching facilities and buildings. For the visually impaired, the ‘disability mission' can produce documents (lessons, exam papers) in Braille format, audio format, or enlarged characters. It can also loan students specially adapted materials and software to allow them to pursue their education. The State budget gives grants for the specific needs of these missions in order to purchase materials and pay their staff.

2.1.4. Vocational training and lifelong learning

As mentioned above it is rare for disabled students, in particular the visually impaired, to be able to undertake training courses in mainstream centres. More often than not the professions for which there are courses are not accessible to the visually impaired and the teaching staff are not trained in the use of necessary specifically adapted teaching techniques.


2.2. Special education

Collective classes do not exist in all the ‘départements'. In these cases the choice is for individual school integration. When this cannot continue or is not adapted to the needs of the student, the orientation towards a specialist institution can be proposed or required by the child and his family.

Thus, the specialist institutions propose adapted schooling for the particular difficulties encountered by some students who cannot continue their schooling in the ordinary system.

2.2.1. Primary

A small number of special primary schools still exist, but more often than not young visually impaired students are integrated in mainstream primary schools close to their homes. For integration to fully succeed however, it is necessary to establish a collaboration between the schools and a specialised service which should, in principal, exist in each region: the Services to Assist in the Acquisition of Autonomy and School Integration (SAAAIS - Service d'Aide à l'Acquisition de l'Autonomie et d'Intégration Scolaire) see below. Recently is has been noted that primary classes are beginning again in specialised schools for example the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles, INJA Paris, this is due to lack of sufficient support offered to students in mainstream classes.

2.2.2. Secondary

With help of the SAAAIS, most visually impaired adolescents are educated in mainstream schools. The INJA is the only French school to offer specialised secondary classes; these are mostly for students who have just lost their sight and need immediate help and specific techniques to adapt.

2.2.3. University

There are no specialised higher education institutions in France, the four "Instituts de Formation en Masso-Kinésithérapie" (Massage and Physiotherapy Training Centres) for the visually impaired which are part of the Special Training Centres in Villejuif, Paris, Lyon and Limoges have the status of Higher Education Institutions allowing their students to benefit from all the advantages offered to Higher Education students.

2.2.4. Vocational training and lifelong learning

120 establishments and specialised services provide professional training to around 11,000 disabled students. Around 12 of these establishments are specialised for the visually impaired and each takes in around 1000 students per year who are trained in the traditional skills but also search continually for new openings. Throughout their training period the students receive a payment from the state of around 750 € for those who have never been in employment, and for those who were previously employed the amount is equivalent to their previous salary. The Specialised Professional Training Centres are under the control of the regions, but the Ministry of Work must approve new training schemes. These centres are financed by the Social Security System as are the costs of lodging the students, who only have to make a modest contribution to the cost of their meals.


2.3. Collaboration between both systems

2.3.1. Primary

As mentioned above, for primary education to succeed in a mainstream school which does not have a CLIS, it is necessary to establish a close collaboration between the school and the SAAAIS, often run by a specialised association which receives the financial assistance of the Ministry of Health. The law of 2005 necessitates the creation of a SAAAIS in each ‘department'. These centres employ specialised staff teaching notably Braille, movement, and computer skills. They also teach students how to accomplish daily tasks and offer psychological help if required. Family Assistance Services exist in some ‘departments' which help parents of very young (below six) disabled students to assure an adequate pre-school education for their children.

2.3.2. Secondary

The SAAAIS, as mentioned above, play a role in assisting secondary schools with the help required in offering adequate education to disabled students.

2.3.3. University

A few non-profit making NGOs offer disabled students in general and the visually impaired particularly, additional help to that offered by other structures. This may include adapting documents and numerous volunteers also help visually impaired students to acquire and save documents and even accompany them in training courses. These associations are often most active, in collaboration with big businesses, at the time when students will enter working life and are looking for a work placement or definitive employment.

2.3.4. Vocational training and lifelong learning

No collaboration exists.


3. Teaching of compensatory skills made necessary by vision loss

Each institution or service defines its own means of action depending on the population it serves, its age, its needs and the regional resources. The types of support implemented are:

  • Pedagogical aid in the school, teaching support
  • Vocational training
  • Psychomotricity, early education,
  • Low vision rehabilitation
  • Family support, psychological support
  • Rehabilitation in ADL (Autonomy in Daily Life), Orientation & Mobility
  • Data processing, training for using adapted materials
  • Ergonomics of the work station
  • Adaptation and transcription of pedagogical documents and all documents

3.1. Subjects (Braille, computer, daily-living skills, mobility, etc.)

All the above subjects are imperatively taught to young visually impaired students, according to their needs established in the ‘Individual Schooling Plan' drawn up by the ‘Commission des Droits et de l'Autonomie de la Personne Handicapée' which works with each MDPH. According to the age at which the visual impairment became manifest these subjects may be taught at primary, secondary of higher education level or even during professional training.

3.2. Training and certificates for visually impaired teachers (Braille, computer, daily-living skills, mobility, etc.)

Training for people who work with visually impaired children is ensured by different organisations:

Specialist teachers working for the Ministry of National Education have a certificate of professional competency for specialist support, adapted teaching and the schooling of the pupils with disabilities (CAPA-SH), undertaken with the INSHEA (Institut National Supérieur de formation et de recherche pour l'éducation des jeunes Handicapés et les Enseignements Adaptés).

Specialist teachers working for the Ministry of Health and Solidarity are trained in the University of Savoie.

Rehabilitation workers in ADL (Autonomy in Daily Life) have a diploma delivered by the University Paris 13 and the FISAF.

Specialists in orientation and mobility have a diploma delivered by the APAM (Association pour les Personnes Aveugles ou Malvoyantes).

The transcriber-adapters are formed at the FISAF.

The FISAF is an organisation for on-the-job training which proposes training courses for the institutions and services. Various organisations also propose meetings and annual congresses where professionals can exchange ideas and continue their training.

3.3. Training and certificates for visually impaired students (Braille, computer, daily-living skills, mobility, etc.)

A number of national associations of parents, professionals and institutions facilitate contacts and exchanges between the individuals who provide support for the visually impaired children and their families.


4. Provision of accessible text books and other educational material

The sucess of a disabled students education is conditioned by the availability and use of specially adapted pedagogical materials. At the start of the 2009 school year, the primary school curicula is available in braille.

4.1. Provision of the basic documents

The decree of 18 December 2008 allows associations approved by the Ministry of Culture to adapt all documents (books) without prior agreement from the publisher. Currently around twenty associations have been approved and can thus offer all visually impaired people the works that they require in Braille, Audio, large character or electronic formats. This decree represents a considerable progress, but adaption of a work (particularly a school or university document) is often a long procedure, because it is not just a simple transcription/reading of the document, but a complicated task taking into account charts and graphics.

4.2. Adaptation and transcription of the documents

In order to speed up the adaptation of documents the above-mentioned decree also obliges publishers to hand over to the French National Library, source documents when these are requested by certain associations approved by the ministry of Culture. To obtain this approval, more complicated than that mentioned above, the associations must prove that they have the capacity to publish the works in accessible formats and above all that they guarantee the protection of the source documents against all other uses. It is necessary to ensure copyright protection. A national database will list all the adapted works in order to avoid having to adapt the same document several times. The documents and works are can be freely consulted.


5. Provision of assistive technology

Material for individual use is available to the student within the framework of a loan covention, notably for computer equipment (braille keyboards, special software and peripherials).

5.1. Primary

For both primary and secondary levels, the Ministry of Education purchases the required equipment which is loaned free-of-charge to students throughout their schooling.

5.2. Secondary

5.3. University

Concerning higher education, assistance is ensured on the one hand by the ‘Missions Handicap' of the Universities and on the other hand by services and associations specialised in the assistance of disabled students. Special funds of the CNSA (Caisse Nationale de Solidarité pour l'Autonomie) were assigned to this mission. The needs assessment for the person is carried out by the MDPH (see above).

5.4. Vocational training and lifelong learning

The material required for the training course is purchased by the structure offering the course and then lent to students. However the budget allocated by the Social Security System to the centres is often inadequate compared to the needs of all the students, which can sometimes pose problems.

(Sources - August 2009, 2009 2009 2009)
Further information was supplied by Ph. CHAZAL, President of the "Comité National pour la Promotion Sociale des Aveugles et Amblyopes" (CNPSAA)
The CNPSAA regroups the main French associations helping the blind and visually impaired; it is the main partner of the Public Authorities and has amongst its stated objectives the improvement of laws concerning disabled people.