By The Hague Academy (consortium member of WaA!)
Are our training programmes fully accessible for persons with disabilities? What barriers have we (un)consciously put in place, which hinder their full participation? How can we ensure our training sessions are inclusive to everyone?
As an organisation involved in capacity strengthening activities in the field of local governance, it is a standard operating procedure for The Hague Academy team to organise training sessions, workshops or seminars, both virtually and in-person. Next to our traditional preparation checklist, the question of how accessible and inclusive our training activities are has recently gained more importance.
Not taking into account the needs of people with different abilities excludes up to 15 per cent of our focus audience from our activities. This is an enormous omission, and while often unintentional, it leaves a significant blind-spot that weakens our chances of achieving our objectives and, more importantly, goes against our core values of diversity and inclusion.
Governments and development organisations often have various excuses as to why they do not actively include people with disabilities. One of the aims of the We are Able! programme is to demystify such common excuses, which include expressions such as “it’s too expensive”, “we don’t have the knowledge to do it”, “they need special programmes” or “there are not many of them”. Consequently, some of these excuses translate into training and capacity strengthening activities.
What are the common barriers to inclusive facilitation?
- Inadequate data, statistics and evidence on the need for inclusive facilitation.
- Lack of awareness on how to accommodate participation of people with disabilities.
- Prejudices, misconceptions or inaccurate concerns over the cost or difficulty of disability inclusive facilitation.
- Lack of disability awareness, which makes it difficult to find disability-sensitive venues for training activities.
How to do it in practice?
Through the We are Able! Programme, we have become more acutely aware of the need for inclusive facilitation, and we work on addressing these different obstacles by:
- Engaging with our participants beforehand, in order to prepare our activities accordingly:
In Sudan, we agreed beforehand on describing out loud every icon, cartoon or drawing used in the presentations, in order for participants with visual impairments to not miss any relevant elements to the discussions taking place. In Burundi, with a group where various participants do not have two arms, we agreed in advance on waving instead of clapping.
- Not assuming we have all the answers, but asking people about their needs:
Different contexts have different solutions. In Europe, for instance, it is common for service dogs to accompany people with a visual impairment. However, In many WaA! countries, this is not the case. They are instead accompanied by a person, which must be accounted for in our planning and budgeting.
- Working together with lived experience experts:
During an exercise called “You think- I feel”, we held a brainstorming session on the challenges faced by persons with disabilities. Differences emerged between the perceptions of participants without disabilities and the reality of those who have experienced such barriers, allowing for an enriching exchange. Disability experts from ADF, TLM and ECDD also shared practical examples during one of our Training of Trainers activities. They explained, among others, how to involve a visually impaired person in a group activity by directing their hands.
- Selecting accessible venues and locations:
To address accessibility in the short term, the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD), for instance, has designed movable ramps as part of their training equipment. ECDD has also modified their own small bus to transport wheelchair users who are not able to use public transport. They implement these short term measures while lobbying for sustainable solutions, which in reality may take time.
- Ensuring our communication before and during the training activity is accessible:
The Training of Trainers package, for instance, was not only translated into various languages, but also into braille.
Through reasonable accommodation and participatory practices, we can easily ensure participation is inclusive and accessible to all audiences, recognising that the needs and wants of persons with disabilities in our training activities may differ from those with no disabilities.
Participants with a hearing impairment, for instance, may require more textual input, captions on videos, or an interpreter. Participants with a visual impairment may require audio material, printed copies in larger fonts or request that presentations are sent in advance or recorded for later revision. Some disabilities may also not be visible, and require different forms of reasonable accommodation to ensure their full and equal participation. For instance, in the case of neurodiverse participants, we must consider aspects of the environment such as the lighting, seating and sound, or the frequency of breaks. It is also key to reach to participants, both during and after the training activity, to see how things are going and if they are comfortable, informed and able to fully participate. Getting feedback allows us to continue to improve our planning practices around accessibility.
- Accessibility checklist for trainings and meetings (adapted from “Save the Children, Access for All: Helping to make participatory processes accessible for everyone, 2000”, which provides a detailed checklist to plan and deliver disability-inclusive training activities and meetings.)