The AEMA project started in the beginning of 2014 and is now well underway. The network consists of 12 organisations from 11 European countries.
During 2014, focus group meetings with people with disabilities and adult education staff took place in several European countries. They provided information the project consortium needs to define a framework which helps adult education providers to find out how accessible they are and how they can improve accessibility in their organisation.
The discussion produced interesting results with positive responses where students with disability valued their learning experience, felt listened to and supported in their learning. However, it is important to reflect on some of the circumstances where there is clearly room for improvement.
Variation in attitudes and values
The terminology used to describe students with disability revealed attitudes to students with disabilities. Many results referred to ‘students with disability’, but there was an occasion which referred to ‘handicapped students’ – a term considered outmoded in most countries. Such a simple comment raised questions about perceptions of disability and other general attitudes towards disabled people.
The discussions also showed a need for a culture of real equality with active self-advocacy and a stronger presence by disabled people at all levels of the organisation. Some results suggested an acceptance of a status quo where students lacked equality and were working in segregated environments.
More staff training is needed
Many students spoke of feelings of being treated unfairly, not being understood and treated negatively. They wanted more training for staff to understand the needs of students with disability. Training seemed to be a high priority not just in understanding about disability but also skill development in using equipment and alternative teaching methodologies.
An initial lack of response from groups about the environment led to deeper questioning in some groups. It emerged that good environmental accessibility was by enlarge an integral part of the student environment in several participating countries and therefore taken for granted. This was evident in the countries with higher economies, whereas other partners expressed significant difficulties with lack of equipment and accessible buildings but often finding ingenious methods to overcome difficulties creating equipment and students supporting one another.
These are just some of the findings which pose many important questions which the project consortium hopes will be discussed in the AEMA portal when it goes live later this year.
AEMA Accessibility Award is given to a project that tackles the barriers above. The consortium has received six applications and is now evaluating them. The Award ceremony takes place in parallel with EAEA Grundtvig Award ceremony in Porto, Portugal on 22 June 2015. More information on the award on AEMA website on www.eaea.org.
Text: Julie Lunt