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Αρ.Πρωτ. : …830….

Βόλος, 6 Ιουλίου 2017 

The “Erasmus 4 V.I.P.” project
 “Association of People with Visual Disability” in Magnesia "MAGNITES TIFLI" in collaboration with KEKPA-DIEK  (Cooperation Protocol 1/3/2016) implemented from September 2015 to September 2017 together with the NGOs Ofensiva Tinerilor (Romania), NART (Bulgaria), KRIK (FYROM) and Pancyprian of the Blind (Cyprus) the European Strategic Program "Erasmus + 4 VIP".
This program, through its collaborations opens up new horizons for the local community, aims to identify new ways in which young people with disability (especially those with visual impairment) can participate in formal and non-formal learning / education programs as well as in various social and recreational activities (eg integration activities in social, friendly and other groups, methods of effective communication, skills development etc.). For this reason, the actual context of integrating young people with visual impairment was explored in all participating countries.
Research has highlighted the difficulties faced by young people with visual impairment when addressing to public services and agencies, as there is no information in Braille, there are no online services available, procedures are complicated and time-consuming, there is not properly trained staff while most adjustments concern people with physical disabilities.
However, the most important aspect of the program is that young people with visual impairment take initiatives and propose in this context a better promotion of learning / education opportunities, positive attitudes towards them, providing supportive technologies, financial compensation for various issues, leisure activities and exchanges through European programs. At the same time, however, NGO and Public Sector Organizations that participated in the research, propose to better integrate young people with visual impairment education and access to disability (in particular to understand the particularities of people with disability), to supply special logistics equipment, approaching young people with visual impairment and education, more broadly, in the society as a whole.
In order to better integrate visually impaired young people into formal and non-formal learning programs and international mobility activities, all partners created within the program appropriate material for use by youth organizations and youth workers. This collection includes, among other things, information on the characteristics of young people with visual impairment, the use and consolidation of appropriate terminology, communication techniques, basic escort techniques, assistive technologies to prepare and facilitate the integration of young people into non-formal learning programs and activities, tools and games in which young people with visual impairment can also participate, techniques to adapt already existing programs / activities in order to achieve their equal participation, integration methods to international mobility activities.
In conclusion, social inclusion is very important and everyone must have equal rights in everyday life. For this reason, service providers for young people should adapt their programs in order to adopt an equal approach and offer equal opportunities to all young people, regardless of the differences that characterize them.
Training of the parties involved as well actions to raise public awareness and publicize the results, an integral part of the program.
The “Erasmus for People with Visual Impairments” project aims to identify new ways in which young people with disability, especially with visual impairments, can get more involved in various social and educational activities.
In order to achieve this objective, the project consortium, consisting of five partners from Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, FYROM and Cyprus, analysed the real context of inclusion for youngsters with visual impairments in non-formal activities.
As a sequence of this research, the partners formulated a series of recommendations that need to be addressed to in order for the participation of youngsters with visual impairments into regular social and educational activities on NGOs and other institutions working in the field of youth development to be increased.
Using these recommendations as base, partners later designed this T-Kit and the training curriculum that youth workers and youth organizations can use to involve visually impaired youngsters in non-formal education activities and international mobility
For this, first it is important to explore the real context of integration of visually impaired youngsters in order for later to design powerful resources that youth workers and youth organisation can use to integrate visually impaired youngsters in non formal education activities and international mobilities.

Main findings

Analysis of data allowed us to take a closer look on what needs to be done in order to increase the participation of young people with visual impairment in various non-formal education projects and activities.

Main conclusions are:
x  Most NGOs do not have accessible infrastructures and assistive technology which can support the inclusion of young people with visual impairments;
x  Most NGOs are interested in including the VIPs in non-formal learning opportunities, volunteering and leisure activities while also considering that they will be needing funding and training of the staff in order to do so
x  Most NGOs need training materials containing: methods, activities and directions for making their projects more accessible; contacts from experts and organizations which are working with VIPs; visual materials such as videos and examples on how to involve persons with visual impairments in their regular activities
x  Most of the VIPs consider that a lot should be changed and adapted regarding accessibility and services they receive from institutions and NGOs.
Opinion of general population on disability issues
People usually have a positive/empathic view on disability. Almost half of the people that were interviewed said that they do not face any mental barriers while interacting with people with disability. More than 90% agreed to positive actions in favour of people with disability.
On the other hand, 63.49% of respondents in Romania, 44.90% in Greece, 36.51% in FYROM, 27% in Bulgaria and 22.23% in Cyprus were refrained from offering their help to the disabled, due to the following reasons:
x  lack of time (Romania: 54%, Bulgaria: 43%, Cyprus: 56%)
x  difficulty to work with people with disability (Romania: 21%, Cyprus: 19%)
x  lack of skills for offering support (Romania: 17%, Greece: 11%, Bulgaria: 28%, Cyprus: 26%)
x  lack of awareness on opportunities for volunteering (Romania: 14%, Greece: 10%, Cyprus: 19%)
Taking under consideration the various types of disability, in all 5 participant countries general population acknowledges the difference of needs related to accessibility, something that can be a key for the integration of all disabilities.
The wide-spread attitude that "disabled people are common people with their own personality and potential," (90.57% in Greece, 80% in Romania, 76,19% in FYROM, 84% in Bulgaria, 93.30% in Cyprus agree with this), contributes to an effective integration. Still, the disabled need more effort to complete everyday tasks compared to people without disability. Thus, the term "people with disability" should be used not only for presenting their deficiencies due to their disability, as it has been done until now, but also in a rewarding way for their additional effort.
A key to the integration process for people with disabilities is for the people without disability to understand that people with visual impairment can have a number of roles and can be involved in a wide range of activities, provided that there are no exclusion criteria.

Providing information on available programs and services in a format that is accessible to people with disability and their families, is a key step to encourage their participation in services and institutions.

Opinion of people with visual impairment regarding the accessibility of public services
x  Equal opportunities in accessing Civil Services
A quite high percentage of the young with visual impairment (30% in Romania, 33.33% in Greece, 50% in FYROM, 50% in Bulgaria, 70% in Cyprus) consider that they do not have equal access to public services, compared to people with no disability. They attribute this phenomenon to the limitations imposed by the disability itself, but also to perceptions of the civil servants.
In addition, 60% in Romania, 33.33% in Greece, 60% in Bulgaria and 50% of all the people who have responded in the survey consider that civil services in general do not take their disability under consideration while designing and delivering their services, showing a need for improvement.
x  Helpful / appropriate adjustments in Civil Services
In Romania 17% of the adjustments, 68.18% in Greece, 61.82% in FYROM, 75% in Bulgaria and 26.3% in Cyprus where characterized as helpful/ appropriate. People with Visual Impairment said that in their opinion, Civil Servants who interacted with them, did not make any adjustments to take their disability into account.
x  The disabled’s experiences with staff in Civil Services
In Romania, 37% of people with visual impairment and 42% in Cyprus rated public services as poor or very poor.
In Greece, interviewed institutions said that they do not provide information material available in appropriate format (87%), a properly structured space (72.73%) or electronic reading devices (90%). Despite this, 66.67% of people with visual impairment declared that civil servants respond politely to their needs and are ready to help with information and assistance in completing the paperwork. Their problems are bureaucracy and complex procedures that consume time and money and no efficient cooperation between governmental services resulting in the need for the procedure to be carried out by relatives, lawyers or any other who can help. Finally, 33.65 % of them rated the public services as very good and 48.98% good.
In FYROM 33.90% of visually impaired people assessed their experience with the civil services as good. Some of them think that the services are good, but sometimes not equal to all and that people with visually impairment need personal assistants.
A policy for evaluating the efficacy and quality of support offered to people with disabilities was almost absent in Romania and FYROM (where just 11% and respectively 7% of institutions have it) and more present in Greece, where 81.40% of institutions claim to have it, Bulgaria 35% and Cyprus 41%.
As a result of these evaluations, it can be observed that in Greece the public services were rated as being more qualitative.
x  Assistance that young people with visual impairment benefit from in a public institution.
Most of public institutions are not offering the basic assistance for people with visual impairment. Here are the results among the institutions questioned:
Information material available in appropriate format (Braille, large print, etc.)Romania: 14%, Greece: 14.30%, FYROM: 6.90%, Bulgaria: 35%, Cyprus: 28.57%
Appropriate lighting. Romania 85%, Greece: 0%, FYROM: 31.03%, Bulgaria 35%, Cyprus 52.38%
A properly structured space (including signs in Braille, tactile floors, removing potential obstacles, etc). Romania: 28%, Greece: 27.27%, FYROM:
Electronic reading devices. Romania: 14%, Greece: 9.52%, FYROM: 3.45%, Bulgaria: 20%, Cyprus: 4.76%
Specialized staff ready to assist. Percentage of institutions providing it: in Romania: 20%, Greece: 52.38%, FYROM: 13.79%, Bulgaria: 60%, Cyprus: 47.62%
Most of the improvements in accessibility have targeted people in wheelchairs, improving accessibility being often confused with just creating ramps that provide access.
(Percentage of institutions offering support/assistance for people facing Mobility and Physical impairments: Romania: 85%, Greece: 77%, Bulgaria: 80%, FYROM: 51.71%, Cyprus: 45.45%)
Despite the fact that there are complaints made by the young people with visual impairment referring to “low accessibility”, “lack of interest”,lack of experience” or “bad behaviour” by Civil Servants, (eg some they are even “yelling” at them), in Romania and Bulgaria not even one of the institutions has considered the need for taking any measures/initiatives to combat staff’s negative perceptions, stereotyping and prejudices against people with disability.
In FYROM 34.5% of institutions take measures against employees who had negative perceptions towards people with disability and 51.72% of the institutions plan to take measures/initiatives to combat staff’s negative perceptions, stereotyping and prejudices against people with disability. They actually plan to:
x  develop a questionnaire through which they aim to identify the deficiencies that should be addressed in future work
x  provide better living conditions for people with disability
x  follow special training, educational and informative workshops conducted by experts on this issue
x  evaluate the quality of the learning curriculum
More than 70% of the respondents in Romania, 89% in Bulgaria and 91.30% in Greece, declared that people with disability have the opportunity to report when they are subject to discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice from the staff of the institution. However, comparing this information to the perception of young people with visual impairment regarding the quality of services that public institutions provide, it can be observed that these reporting methods have not reached their goal.
Opinion of people with visual impairments regarding the accessibility of non-formal education activities
In Greece, 86.27 % of young people with visual impairments, 64.41% in Bulgaria, 38% in Cyprus, 85% in Romania and 64.41% of the ones in FYROM are unaware of the existence of European/international learning opportunities that are addressing youth.
Participation rate to youth mobility or other youth project is low for the young people with visual impairment in Romania and Bulgaria.
x  38.46% in Greece, 6% in Romania, 5% in Bulgaria, have tried to volunteer in an NGO in their local community;
x  28% in Greece, 2% in Bulgaria, 4% in Romania succeeded in being a volunteer in an NGO in his/her local community
Some of the reasons that were mentioned for not trying to participate to such events were:
x  They did not have the necessary means
x  They were not provided with necessary financial resources for participation
x  There was no accessibility and relevant assistive technologies
x  Parents preventing them from participating, being afraid that this experience might deteriorate their condition, physically and psychologically
x  The topic was not interesting
x  They did not want fellow volunteers to feel sorry for them not being able to do the same things
x  Not wanting to make others feel uncomfortable having to face their disability
x  Fear of not being able to fulfill the tasks
x  They were afraid of being a burden to the others and lacked trust in the fact that people with disabilities could be accepted
This was also confirmed by the findings related to NGOs accessibility where almost 90% of them declare that they do not provide accessibility to people with visual impairments.
Visually impaired people who have been involved in different activities organized by NGOs found their experiences interesting and useful. They were offered the chance to further develop personally and socially, by being included in new and various activities, meeting many new people who do not belong to their family or their immediate social circle, exercise responsibility and take on leadership roles.
Overall, NGOs and public institutions are declaring that they are not well prepared in terms of providing environmental adaptations and should work towards removing physical obstacles, providing Braille signs, tactile floors, etc. for impaired people.

In all participating countries, both NGO’s and Public Sector representatives declared that they need further training in the field of disability, especially for being more aware about the needs of young people with visual impairments (e.g. how to offer help, sighted guide techniques, help with practicalities, use of special equipment in working with VIPs).

Overall mapping of the existing situation, as it was revealed from the analysis of the study results, shows that there are a lot of measures that need to be taken in order to achieve full integration of young people with visual impairment in services and programs addressing them.

Για τους Μάγνητες Τυφλούς
Ο Πρόεδρος, Ιωάννης Καραγιώργος
Η Γενική Γραμματέας, Πέρσα Πετρά