Module 1: Understanding the Needs


“Understanding the needs” is the first of five modules developed for youth workers, educators, trainers and youth leaders. This module aims to increase the communication and organisational skills and competences of youth workers who want to work with young PwVHPI (people with visual, hearing or physical impairment) to involve them in international youth exchanges.

International youth work offers an excellent opportunity to experiment with and reflect on inclusive concepts and methods within a protected space that allows for mistakes and failures and, through a participatory approach, enables for common learning processes for all actors involved.

To create an atmosphere of trust and positive group dynamics during the encounters, youth workers and facilitators must take into account the wide array of needs and interests of the mobility’s participants while planning and implementing activities, and they must be willing to continuously apply and reflect on a variety of adequate methodological approaches. In groups involving PwVHPI, it is even more important and necessary to customise the whole process based on collective and individual needs, to ensure a pleasant experience for everyone.

This module explores the following topics:

  • Needs and concerns: the role of families.
  • Inclusive mobilities: dos and don’ts.
  • Assistance.

By the end of this module, you will learn:

  • how to connect with young PwVHPI’s families and together with them understand better their children’s needs and address their concerns before, during and after a mobility;
  • the practical aspects of organising inclusive international mobilities;
  • how to provide assistance to young PwVHPI before, during and after a youth activity.

1. Needs and concerns: the role of families

The paradigm about disability and family evolves from a psychotherapeutic model (first developed in the 1950s), through a parent education model (1970s), to a quality of life and empowerment model (starting from the 1980s). This new period is characterised by trusting a basic idea: the families are capable of handling the disability when provided with the necessary support, i.e. they are resilient families (Benito Lara, E., Carpio de los Pinos, C., 2017, p. 420).

A positive connection between parents and youth workers/mobility organisers can influence the participants’ attitudes and their decision to participate in exchange programs abroad: how can we ensure this connection is effectively established? It’s important to engage in a collaborative relationship involving both professionals and the family and to achieve an “interaction of mutual support, which focuses on satisfying the needs of the person with a disability and their family, and is characterised by a sense of competence, commitment, equality, communication and trust” (Summers et al., 2005, p. 49).

It is crucial to understand that, when working with disabled young people, parents are your greatest ally, and that an appropriate communication and cooperation is an important factor which could contribute to their kids becoming active participants across various youth programmes, and this alone will benefit both disabled young people and their families.

However, it’s fundamental to remember that the active involvement of PwVHPI is essential from the first moment, so that young PwVHPI will feel the ownership of the mobility project. As a youth workers, you have to establish a connection with the young PwVHPI (in case you haven’t met them before) and to make them feel welcome. Never forget that our primary focus is the young participant, not their family: all the questions that are directed to them should be asked directly, not to their families or interpreters.

When meeting the participants and their families be attentive to:

  • Find resources to illustrate clearly what a mobility project is: the resources should also illustrate clearly that young PwVHPI can easily participate in mobility projects abroad and that their needs will be heard and met. Make sure you find reliable material that is accessible and inclusive and contains information about any type of assistance the participant might need (travel assistance, translators and interpreters, accessible spaces etc.).
  • Underline the importance of active participation for the overall success of the mobility experience abroad: make sure they understand that the project wouldn’t be the same without them and how it can contribute to improve their personal and even professional skills (language, communication, team work). Be prepared to share contacts of other young PwVHPI (who have given you permission to do so) who have previously participated in mobilities abroad, in order for them to share their experiences, including any constraints they might have encountered; it could be motivational and encouraging for aspiring participants. And, obviously, ask them what their needs are and how you can facilitate their participation in the youth exchange: never assume what somebody’s needs might be. Be prepared for these needs being different from the ones communicated by their families and try to make sure they are met before, during and after the mobility abroad.
  • Make it clear that their participation does not end with the mobility experience: they should look for ways to be active in their community, to inspire more peers to join mobility projects. For example, you could prepare a list of volunteering opportunities in their cities according to their main area of interest – be it inclusion, environmental activism, gender equality etc.

There are no “recipes” that magically work in every circumstance: therefore, it is essential to think creatively, to comprehend the needs and opportunities of every single participant and also to evaluate the solutions found in similar cases, to understand what works and what doesn’t. Here are some suggestions on how to involve families in all phases of youth mobility process (10 Strategies for Schools to Improve Parent Engagement, 2019, Adapted):

  • Personalise: the personalisation aspect should not concern only the participants to the mobility, but also their parents. Try to understand their preferred means of communication (in person, by phone, videocall, etc.), tone and the type of information that suits their needs better. For example, if a parent is not concerned about travel assistance because they know how it works, avoid oversharing information about this aspect of the exchange.
  • Set the tone: share some information about yourself with the families, so parents know what to expect and are encouraged to do the same: this way, you will start building a relationship based on trust and foster it during the preparation, implementation and follow-up phase of the mobility.
  • Share accountability: make it clear that you are 100% committed to participate in the communications efforts, but it has to be mutual.
  • Invite parents to be partners: you should invite parents to share information about their kids’ strengths and weaknesses, what type of support system they have at home, the type of assistance they need, and whether anything going on in their personal lives might end up impacting their behaviour in a group context. Information like this can be essential in equipping youth workers to meet participants’ needs.
  • Share the positive: it is important to find opportunities to communicate good news. Try not to share just updates about the technical aspects of the mobility, but also about achievements in terms of accessibility and inclusiveness in the activities planned, the material provided, and improvements and personal goals reached by participants in every phase of the mobility.

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When meeting the participants and their families be attentive to:

  • Find resources to illustrate clearly what a mobility project is: the resources should also illustrate clearly that young PwVHPI can easily participate in mobility projects abroad and that their needs will be heard and met. Make sure you find reliable material that is accessible and inclusive and contains information about any type of assistance the participant might need (travel assistance, translators and interpreters, accessible spaces, etc.).
  • Underline the importance of active participation for the overall success of the mobility experience abroad: make sure they understand that the project wouldn’t be the same without them and how it can contribute to improve their personal and even professional skills (language, communication, team work). Be prepared to share contacts of other young PwVHPI (who have given you permission to do so) who have previously participated in mobilities abroad, in order for them to share their experiences, including any constraints they might have encountered; it could be motivational and encouraging for aspiring participants. And, obviously, ask them what their needs are and how you can facilitate their participation in the youth exchange: never assume what somebody’s needs might be. Be prepared for these needs being different from the ones communicated by their families and try to make sure they are met before, during and after the mobility abroad.
  • Make it clear that their participation does not end with the mobility experience: they should look for ways to be active in their community, to inspire more peers to join mobility projects. For example, you could prepare a list of volunteering opportunities in their local communities to their main area of interest – be it inclusion, environmental activism, gender equality etc.

2. Inclusive mobilities: dos and don’ts

As explained in the first subsection, before thinking about the physical and learning environment where the mobility will take place, youth workers should connect with potential participants to assess and clarify their individual needs. After collecting the information, you can start thinking about adapting what you have learnt during the preparation phase and how to implement it, in order to meet the needs and expectations of young PwVHPI. But how can you improve accessibility of your learning experience? There are many ways to improve accessibility. Some, like improving physical access to buildings or producing Braille documents, are more obvious, while others – such as creating the right atmosphere and learning or work culture – are less obvious (Access for all, 2000).

It is essential that you, as a youth worker, take these following steps to ensure maximum possible accessibility to all of the activities of any youth exchange/mobility:

  1. Do your research: make sure to do your best in terms of replicability. Designing inclusive mobilities might seem difficult, but once you start planning it, it’ll be easier to spot participation barriers and eliminate them from future mobilities. To start, use a participant registration form that includes questions about the specific type(s) of assistance needed, food preferences, dietary restrictions.
  2. Make sure you have accessible material and activities that can involve every participant: it’s important to try to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to materials or activities. Based on the research done during the preparation phase, you can change and adapt rules, instructions, communication methods, in order for everyone to feel at ease in the learning environment you have created. Remember that Erasmus+ covers 100% of any additional funding for special needs (translators, assistants, Braille printing, etc.).
  3. Remain open minded: even if you have planned everything beforehand and think you have covered all the needs of your participants, remain open minded and ready to adapt your plans and activities to unexpected needs that can arise during the mobility.

And remember: don’t criticise yourself too much! There are no 100% accessible spaces and activities! Include others to find creative solutions for a successful and inclusive mobility.

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3. Assistance

Up until a few years ago, disability was defined by the so-called medical model of disability (The social and medical model of disability, 2020), which represented disability as a “problem” that belongs to the disabled individual and that doesn’t concern anyone other than the individual affected. For example, if a student using a wheelchair is unable to access a building because of some steps, the medical model would suggest that this is because of the wheelchair, rather than the steps

In recent years policy has shifted away from the medical model of disability and towards a human rights and social model of disability. The social model of disability proposes that what makes someone disabled is not their medical condition, but the attitudes and structures of society. It is considered the “civil rights’ approach” to disability, as it recognises that disability is a natural part of human diversity that must be respected and supported, that disabled people have the same rights as everyone else in society and that impairments must not be used as an excuse to deny or restrict anybody’s rights. So, if a student using a wheelchair is unable to access a building because of some steps, the problem is represented by the steps, not by the wheelchair.

That being said, you should never assume the type of support or assistance a disabled person might need; you should always ask them how you could assist them. Remember everyone is different, and people with the same type of disability might need different types of help – so, don’t guess. Ask!

Independence is a crucial skill for people with disabilities, so when they insist they don’t need help, they really mean it.

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Activity 1.1.

Module Title Module 1: Understanding the needs
Activity Title Making your info material accessible
Activity Code A1.1
Duration of the Activity (in hours) 3 to 5 hours (depending on the quantity of material you would like to adapt)
Type of resource Activity Sheet
Aim of activity By making your organisation’s info material accessible, you can improve the visibility of your organisation and attract new members as well. You will support the inclusion of young PwVHPI by making information more accessible for them.
Materials Required for Activity Laptop, printer
Step-by-step instructions You can adapt content from previous presentations/ leaflets you may have created about youth exchanges and/or Erasmus+, by making it accessible following accessibility guidelines for partially sighted and dyslexic participants. Similar edits should be applied to your organisation’s website.

The following breakdown of necessary actions could help you in the process:

Step 1: Decide on the material you deem necessary to adapt;

Step 2: Research on the appropriate intervention(s) to adapt your material;

Step 3: Introduce the adaptation and render your material accessible for the target groups you would like to address;

Step 4: If you are able to – it’s always good to test the accessibility of materials with your target group(s);

Step 5: Publish or print the adapted version of your presentation, brochures or programmes.

Examples of accessibility guidelines can be found in the DARE Practical Guide for Inclusion (Chapter 5).

Activity 1.2.

Module Title Module 1: Understanding the needs
Activity Title Accessibility checklist
Activity Code A1.2
Duration of the Activity (in hours) 2 hours
Type of resource Activity Sheet
Aim of activity Verifying that the venue chosen for your youth exchange or youth activity is accessible for your disabled participants.
Materials Required for Activity Laptop, printer
Step-by-step instructions Step 1: Investigate the needs of your youth participants, by talking to them or distributing the questionnaire to inquire about any need that you would need to accommodate during the youth exchange or a similar youth activity;

Step 2: Using, for example, an Excel sheet document you can now start developing the accessibility check-list of your venue. An example of common accessibility requirements can be found online;

Step 3: List the requirements in the first column of your Excel sheet and remember to leave some space for notes (for example, in case a change is being implemented);

Step 4: Keep track of the developments (e.g. solutions found, needs still to be accommodated, alternative solutions etc.).

Resource 1.1

Module Title: Module 1: Understanding the needs
Title of Resource: Communication with deafblind people
Resource Code: R 1.1
Introduction to the resource: A fascinating video, which explores methods to communicate with people who are both deaf and blind.
What will you get from using this resource? Even if the resource is dated, it shows how innovation plays an amasing role in the development of inclusive communication methods. We hope this video can inspire you to never be afraid to examine new, accessible ways to communicate with disabled young people.
Link to resource: Communication with Deafblind People

Resource 1.2

Module Title: Module 1: Understanding the needs
Title of Resource: How to communicate with a deaf person? – 14 simple & actionable tips to overcome communication barriers
Resource Code: R 1.2
Introduction to the resource: A collection of basic and easy-to-follow tips on how to interact with a deaf person. The resource includes videos (including one about lip reading) and interesting articles about the matter.
What will you get from using this resource? You will learn how to communicate with deaf people in an inclusive way.
Link to resource: How to communicate with a deaf person?

Resource 1.3

Module Title: Module 1: Understanding the needs
Title of Resource: EBU Clear Print Guidelines
Resource Code: R 1.3
Introduction to the resource: This document offers basic principles with good practice examples that you can easily apply in all your printed and electronic communication activities to make them accessible for partially sighted people.
What will you get from using this resource? By implementing the principles of Inclusive Design (also called Universal Design) you too can make an important contribution to a more accessible and inclusive society.
Link to resource: EBU CLEAR PRINT GUIDELINES

Resource 1.4

Module Title: Module 1: Understanding the needs
Title of Resource: Scotland’s Inclusive Communication Hub
Resource Code: R 1.4
Introduction to the resource: This hub is full of helpful resources written by individuals, organisations and groups across Scotland about accessibility and inclusive communication.
What will you get from using this resource? You will be able to find resources for many topics related to accessibility and inclusivity (including a whole section about building environments accessibility) to implement them in real life.
Link to resource: Scotland’s Inclusive Communication Hub

Resource 1.5

Module Title: Module 1: Understanding the needs
Title of Resource: National accessibility requirements and standards for products and services in the European single market: overview and examples
Resource Code: R 1.5
Introduction to the resource: The report highlights differences in accessibility requirements in European countries.
What will you get from using this resource? It’s useful to learn about accessibility requirements of other countries to properly prepare a youth exchange project and to address needs and concerns from young PwVHPI and their families.
Link to resource: National accessibility requirements and standards for products and services in the European single market

Bibliography

Benito Lara,. E., Carpio de los Pinos, C. (2017). Families with a disabled member: impact and family education 2017 [Online] Accessed 17th December 2020

Summers, J.A., Hoffman, L., Marquis, J., Turnbull, A., Poston, D., & Nelson, L.L. (2005). Measuring the quality of family-partnerships in special education services. Exceptional Children.

Wolley, R. ed. (2018). Understanding Inclusion. Core Concepts, Policy and Practice. Routledge, London.

MappED! (2018). Inclusive Mobility Alliance. Recommendations on making the Erasmus Programme 2021-2027 more inclusive [Online] Accessed 26th June 2020.

Save the Children (2000). Access for all. Helping to Make Participatory Process Accessible for Everyone. [Online] Accessed 12th July 2020.

Sitography

Gettingsmart.com (2019), 10 Strategies for Schools to Improve Parent Engagement [Online] Accessed 17th December 2020

VirtualLab School (2017), Promoting Family Engagement: Communicating With Families [Online] Accessed 16th June 2020.

European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (2020), [Online] Accessed 2nd March 2020.

University of Leicester – le.ac.uk (2020).The social and medical model of disability [Online] Accessed 17th December 2020.

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