On the 9th September 2020, during the 17th International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs, the ENTELIS+ Project (an Erasmus+ project) Workshop successfully took place. Following the approach according to which digital literacy is a fundamental skill for every person in order to be actively engaged in society, the main objective of the ENTELIS+ project is to foster digital skills and competences of digitally excluded groups, such as persons with disabilities of all ages through strategic public-private partnerships. Persons with disabilities and older persons are at risk of being left out as they are more likely to have a digital knowledge gap. In the frame of the project training materials will be created to bridge this knowledge gap. The aim of the workshop was to present the research results of the project. The research was divided into 3 parts: Collection of existing resources, Consultation questionnaire for stakeholders and Training needs survey for ENTELIS+ partners (which included target groups, training needs for each target group, type of training and format of materials).
Aashish Verma from the Johannes Kepler University in Linz presented the methodology that was used during the research. He was followed by Jon Switters from Funka who shared the main findings of research, as well as identified good practices. Resources collection gathered information on existing curricula, courses, books, handouts, reports, publications and policy documents related with providing accessible digital skills for people with disabilities and older persons in order to foster inclusive education, more participatory citizens, better career prospects and employability. The exact results of the research will be available briefly on the ENTELIS+ website. After the presentation of the results, the moderator of the workshop, Evert-Jan Hoogerwerf from the Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE), invited the participants of the workshop (26 representatives of service providers, educators and Assistive Technology experts) to share their experiences and the good practices they are aware of in the area of increasing digital skills among persons with disabilities. The participants gave their input by trying to share their views on what are the main target groups to receive training, their specific training needs and the key success factors in fostering digital skills of people with disabilities and older adults. Please find below a short summary of what emerged from the discussion in groups:
- The main target groups to receive training should be of course persons with disabilities and older persons as the end users. However, there is a need to include service providers, educators, carers, community educators, families of people with disabilities but also designers, developers, local authorities and decision-makers. The materials created in the project could also be used by mainstream teachers and unemployed persons – all those who lack digital skills.
- Participants proposed different types of training to be developed. For example:
- Blended learning approach (online/offline).
- A face-to-face approach is preferred as online teaching can be difficult to keep up with for some students as for PwD and older adults. Online sessions can be very tiring, as it is hard to keep the concentration. Plus, the use of online tools to attend classes already involves some digital literacy to a certain extent, that not everybody might have.
- However, online teaching is available to a wider public as geographical locations do not matter anymore.
- Particular guidelines on accessibility when implementing online learning and the use of collaborative tools should be taken in consideration.
- The content should be delivered in multiple formats.
- Training materials should work on older equipment.
- Training must include the needs of persons with no digital skills.
Identified key success factors in fostering digital skills of people with disabilities and older adults are:
- Professionals need to be trained on how to train; in particular, there need to be specific guidelines to ensure the training is accessible to everyone – which poses new challenges in times of Covid-19.
- Mainstreaming accessibility issues and capacity building.Access to devices and technology for practicing digital and accessibility skills.
- Accessibility should be a fundamental in training programmes.
- Following proper ethical guidelines.
- Creating a feeling of security and testing out on the field, giving people time to use apps and tools and try them out without fear of breaking them – working on the ground with the people.
- The materials should include lots of practical examples and exercises.
- Creating level playing field – rotate leadership of the online sessions and have all stakeholders (families, support people, teachers, PwDs…) participate.
As presented above, a set of key success factors was identified, but the most important of them is to ensure that the tools used are accessible to people of all ages and with different backgrounds and abilities.