What would your Dream IIT look like

Dream it - do it: pioneering project for the blind and visually impaired

A Sunday morning in Berlin. In a large room of a hostel there is a group of young committed people who have eight days of training in front of them as part of Erasmus + YOUTH IN ACTION. Actually, everything is as always, only a few things are different: white sticks peek out of some trouser pockets, a dog is lying under a table, the young people keep holding their smartphones to their ears as if they were hearing a voice message.

A lot of technology can be seen on the tables, there are no name tags and instead of a Powerpoint presentation, the participants are presented with white pieces of paper with writing that must be read with the fingers. "We form groups of seven to eight people", Claudia from France is explaining to the group. Today it is her turn to design the warm-up activity.

The most important instrument is the voice

"The groups should be composed of sighted and blind participants," she says. A murmur begins, everything takes a little longer than usual - everything that could be perceived visually has to be communicated orally: the voice is the most important instrument here. Then the groups have found each other and the young people stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle.

Everyone should grab the hands of another participant and now the tangled arms have to be untangled again, explains Claudia. A task that is not easy even seeing, but represents an even greater challenge for blind and visually impaired people: It is important to find a common strategy through communication alone.

"I've never been with so many blind people from different countries," says Esma from Georgia. Language skills and the greatest possible mobility are the door openers here: Those who do not have a basic knowledge of English and a certain level of personal mobility in public spaces cannot take part in the training.

A partner network is created: Very different conditions in the participating countries

"I did my European voluntary service at VIEWS International in Belgium and helped develop projects there. Among other things, we also founded a partner network of associations that work with blind and visually impaired young people," explains Max Grote, explaining how the exchange came about.

At a general conference of the associations in September 2017, everyone considered what ideas could be implemented: "Everyone brought their own ideas, problems and needs from their country, also because the requirements for accessibility and participation are very different," explains Grote.

So the idea arose to have a mutual exchange to talk about it exactly. "Certain problems are everywhere or they are similar and we wanted to build a bridge there," he says. Because Grote has contacts with the German Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBSV), the two organizations began to work on a joint application.

Seven partner organizations from Italy, France, Georgia, Finland, Iceland, Romania and Spain were found who wanted to support the exchange. "The DBSV already had a few contacts, so finding a partner picked up speed pretty quickly."

From January 2018 the first Skype meetings and discussions took place to refine the application: "From the collection of ideas it became clear that we don't just want to have a youth encounter, from which the potential may quickly fizzle out again, but that a few concrete ones Projects emerge from the exchange and we initiate a process with which the Erasmus + program becomes more accessible for people with disabilities or fewer opportunities in general, "says Grote.

That also includes the growth of the common platform.

Erasmus + YOUTH IN ACTION wants to take every young person with them

Robert Heim-Pleuger from Eurodesk explains to the 25 young Europeans with an initial input how young people with disabilities can use the program for themselves.

The formalities, deadlines and tips on the topic of funding are new to most of them, but will become essential for later project planning. Helm-Pleuger explains another point: "If you need more financial support for individual young people, for example for someone with a disability, that is not a problem," he tells the participants: "The idea of ​​the program is that every young person from Europe, regardless of their background, can participate.

But that is exactly what takes some effort in practice, explains Robbie Sandberg from DBSV: "It is a huge challenge for us as blind people to find the relevant requirements in the program guide." At over 300 pages, it is very long and of course we can not, like sighted people, read across and scan the guide for certain terms and information that are relevant to us, but we have to read everything, ”he explains.

Another hurdle is the mobility tool, which is not barrier-free, notes Sandberg.

Where are the needs? - First project drafts

Organizing a youth meeting on the subject of "raising awareness", preparing an "inter-disability" summer camp or creating a strategy paper for long-term cooperation between different city councils on the subject of inclusion: The list of ideas for potential projects is long.

Andrei and Laura from Romania, Nick from Georgia and Ibrahim from Belgium work the following days on a youth exchange on the topic of awareness-raising: "For me, developing awareness of a topic begins with ourselves first of all. With the boundaries we meet, we but also sit down for ourselves and with the self-confidence that you need in everyday life - how you appear. We could start with activities ", he tries to convince his group.

"We could work with two parts: One in which sighted people can understand and practice how to deal with blind people, and one part for the blind and visually impaired, how they can accept themselves and react flexibly in different situations," says Laura Suggestion.

Nick from Georgia intervenes: "First of all we have to think about who we want to reach and with whom exactly we want to work. I advocate young people between the ages of 18 and 30," he said. "Cluj in Romania could be a good place for the youth exchange, there is already a good infrastructure for the blind," adds Andrei.

What an "inter-disability camp" could look like

The idea of ​​the summer camp is being worked on just one table away. Esma from Georgia came up with the idea: "With this, we want to help young people with disabilities become more independent and better informed about their options," she explains. "I think it would be good if we could reach around 30 young people from five to six European countries."

During the encounter there could be a day on which certain topics such as human rights, mobility or help through technology are dealt with intensively. In addition, very practical exercises could also be carried out, such as how best to use the white cane, she presented the idea to her group members from Spain, Iceland and France.

"I think it would be good if there was a gender balance among the participants and there were no more than six participants per country in order to get to know different circumstances," said Claudia from France. Eythor from Iceland points out: "At the moment we are four partner countries. If we want to include two more, that means that we have 36 participants - I think 30 should be the maximum." He thinks that it is better not to make a list of the various forms of disability for the project so that no one is excluded.

Carmen from Spain adds: "We really have to consider that some of them may not speak English or their families won't let them go, so we need to plan for support," she reminds the team.

It is particularly important to Malia from Italy that such a project can also improve the chances on the job market for young people with disabilities. "I have often observed that it is difficult for blind young people to enter the university or that it cannot be done without help," says the communication science student.

"This then continues in the world of work and often has something to do with the outside world that blind people often cannot pay much attention to," she explains. In Italy the situation in terms of participation in society is very good because the associations for the blind have a good voice. "But I have already noticed here that this is not the case in other countries," she says.

A role model for other projects of this kind

The fact that the circumstances and requirements are very different was also a learning process for the organizers, explains Robbie Sandberg: "With nine partners, of course, you often have a different awareness of deadlines. Some just take longer than we might have expected must be taken into account when planning. "

Small details, such as picking up the participants from the airport, have to be taken into account, because that is of course a very big challenge for many. This also applies to the distribution of food in the hostel and to excursions: "We have had very good experiences with volunteer platforms, but of course the instructions for the helpers have to be prepared, who often have no experience in dealing with the blind and visually impaired people." says Sandberg.

When it comes to the information material for the exchange, the different approaches of the participants must always be taken into account. It is by no means the case that everyone knows Braille. "Of course, nobody teaches you such details at the beginning, you have to find out everything first," he notes.

His colleague Annika Dipp agrees: "We draw a positive conclusion from the exchange. We were very pleased that some project ideas want to be submitted as applications in the near future - we hoped for that, but didn't necessarily expect that," says you.

But the exchange among the participants about ideas, helpful technologies and apps is a great result in itself and a successful example of the European exchange of experiences.

(Text and photos: Lisa Brüssler for YOUTH for Europe)

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Additional information

Link: More about the work of the German Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. V. you can find out here ...

link: Information on the promotion of skilled workers via the EU program Erasmus + YOUTH IN ACTION is available here ...

link: Erasmus + YOUTH IN ACTION wants to reach all young people. You can find more information on the inclusion and diversity-oriented use of the program here ...