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Inclusive digital education: What is the EU doing?

Coming together at the ICCHP/AAATE Lecco conference on Digital Inclusion, Assistive Technology & Accessibility this 13th of July 2022, the ENTELIS network held a workshop on the variety of projects being implemented to improve inclusive education in Europe in the midst of digitalisation.

The European Network for Technology Enhanced Learning in an Inclusive Society (ENTELIS) gave way to creation of four ERASMUS+ projects: ENTELIS+, DIG-i-READY, RTCN and SKATE. These projects were presented at this workshop, explaining the various layers within digital inclusive education that these specific projects targeted. Spanning from VET to online social participation of people with disabilities, these projects provide a promising future for digital inclusion in Europe.

The panel consisted of representatives from the consortium of each project explaining the impact of their project, the barriers and solutions. Tying all these projects together was a shared vision to help reduce the digital divide by fostering development of accessible tools (e.g. e-learning platform) ICT and Assistive technology skills of persons with disability and the elderly, as well as those who are supporting people with disabilities in developing digital competences. On behalf of the RTCN project consortium, Thomas Bignal, head of policy at EASPD presented a brief of the current policy landscape of EU towards ensuring an inclusive digital society. He also highlighted some of the current challenges that digitalisation brings to service providers for people with disabilities including in the field of education.  Katerina Mavrou, Former President of the Association of the consortium partner Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE) and Associate Professor at European University Cyprus, presented an overview with the key common intersection areas of 4 projects that come out from the ENTELIS network. During the panel discussion, Omor Ahmed, project officer at EASPD highlighted the journey of how the RightToConnect project become a reality after a successful awareness raising campaign #RightToConnectNow during the Entelis+ project. He also presented the key outputs planned to be produced and the major challenges foreseen in the project in the coming months.

To further capture the benefits of digital tools for persons with intellectual disabilities, it is important to develop accessible and easy to use technical solutions and digital competencies. Even though digital competencies are acquired, there are many barriers that still exist that exclude person with intellectual disabilities to participate in a digital society. The panelists agreed that to foster accessibility, co-design can become a viable solution as it allows including the end user in the design process and reduce the additional cost of redesign. During the question-and-answer session, the RTCN consortium partners discussed the potential challenges of implementing the design thinking workshops on a transnational scale.

Panel discussions eventually gave way to a project development workshop hosted by EASPD that gave the participants an opportunity to discuss how to develop follow-up projects in the future, under various EU funded project calls to mainstream inclusive education for people with disabilities. Sitting in different groups the participants discussed different country-specific challenges to mainstream inclusive education at local and national level. With exchange of ideas for potential solutions and current best practices, this session was interactive and stimulating.

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