In 2013 the Internationaler Bund Behindertenhilfe (International Federation for Services for the Disabled) received support from the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme, GRUNDTVIG, to work with 18 partners from 10 countries in the EU and Israel to establish the network project “A European Lifelong Learning Academy – An Education Offensive For People With Disabilities”, or “ELLA” for short, to develop a permanent programme of inclusive adult education for people with and without disabilities in Europe and in other countries.
ELLA conference, Vienna, November 2015, photo: Julia Geiger
The project was launched on November 1, 2013 and was successfully completed at the end of October 2016. The participating organisations from Germany, Austria, France, Greece, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland, Serbia, the Netherlands, Turkey, Great Britain and Israel worked together to develop, test and disseminate six different didactic and methodological approaches to adult education for people with disabilities. The project focussed on placing “different abilities”, or, as they are so often still referred to, “disabilities”, into a new framework. This ‘reframing’ process strives to perceive disability as a completely normal human competence (see ‘Lebenslanges Lernen für Menschen mit Behinderung’ by Professor Feuser, Bremen 1998).
A symbol for inclusion
It is hoped that ELLA will become a symbol within European adult education for people with disabilities, focussing on the socio-political and pedagogical aims of inclusion as stipulated by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Not only are people with disabilities experts in all matters that affect them, but much more than this, we as (purported) ‘normal’ people can actually learn in a tangible way from their skills and strengths (e.g. empathy, expressing emotions, capacity for enthusiasm, creativity, perseverance, etc.).
Experts on themselves
Within individual work packages in the project, people with disabilities became experts in their own issues. They acted as teachers and workshop leaders in adult education, reported on their own experiences, determined and put to the test their own professional and social lives. This was a reversal of traditional didactic methods, which usually take a public welfare-based, integrative approach. In this spirit, the work packages ‘New Leaders’ and ‘Private Life Concepts’ became flagship initiatives for ELLA.
‘Private Life Concepts’ sees people with disabilities becoming experts on their own lives. Photo: Jarek Marciszewski
As part of ‘Private Life Concepts’, programmes were developed that addressed every human being’s basic needs: a self-determined life, work, living conditions, sexuality and the desire to have children. These issues are not often seen within adult education as they are shrouded in a certain taboo for people with disabilities. The development of the ‘Dating Guide’, which has been translated into all the different languages of the participating countries, is a success in its own right. Everyone wants to enjoy a great, and above all, successful date – whether they have a disability or not.
In the ‘New Leaders’ project, people with disabilities underwent a coaching process made up of a combination of theatre, music and role-playing tasks to become real trainers; this process was filmed in order to publish and share the results with a wider audience, and allowed the participants to demonstrate their training skills to real trainers at the ELLA conference in Vienna (November 2015) and at the project’s Final Meeting in Gdansk (September 2016).
With its wide range of participating countries, ELLA also supports creating a balance between the old and new EU countries as well as between EU countries and candidate countries. This means that best-practice experiences could be passed on directly and spread further. ELLA was designed to be an intercultural project with the participation of organisations from countries with Muslim, Jewish, and Christian heritages.
Strengthening the network
Throughout the project’s three-year duration, many friendships, not to mention new ideas, were developed between the different partner organisations, so that by the end of the project it had become very clear that everyone involved wanted to continue working together to make leisure activities, living arrangements, work and life for people with disabilities accessible and inclusive. With this in mind, an ELLA learning page was set up in 2016, which will continue to be updated, even after the end of the project (www.ella-ella.eu and www.ella-learning.eu).
As the project was carried out by the pre-existing international network organisation ‘Caravan 2000 International – European Movement for Diversity and Understanding’, ELLA was not a one-off scheme, but rather a project that helped qualify and improve the work of the existing network and that will be continued within the existing network even after funding has been discontinued.
ELLA stands for continuity and inclusion, balance and a multi-cultural life in Europe!