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e-Accessibility | social inclusion | ECDL ROMANIA
Starting March 2011, ECDL ROMANIA provides free training and certification in end-user ICT skills, to people with motor disabilities. The 'Training Without Boundaries' project formed part of the 'ECDL Values the Community' campaign through which, ECDL ROMANIA, supports programmes for people with disabilities and vulnerable groups. The overarching aim of the project was to provide people with motor disabilities with the opportunity to acquire digital skills and competence to encourage their economic inclusion, by, for example, gaining access to the labour market, and promoting their social inclusion.
The target users of this project were people with motor disabilities and as such, socially vulnerable. The project targeted seven people with motor disabilities in Bucharest, of which five were women and two were men. The participants varied between 24 and 43 years of age. Given the motor disabilities of the target users, the training took place in accessible premises offering facilities accounting for such conditions.
The European Disability Strategy lays out a number of actions and measures aimed at improving equality for people with disabilities and at removing barriers and obstacles to their full participation in society. The European Disability Strategy focuses on enabling people with disabilities to enjoy their rights as citizens and consumers. The European Disability Strategy aims at raising awareness about disabilities and promotes Member State cooperation to overcome obstacles to the inclusion of people with disabilities. Additionally, the European Disability Strategy carries out the European commitment to the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first legally-binding international human rights instrument to which the European Union and its Member States are parties. The European Disability Strategy concentrates on eliminating barriers in several areas such as inclusive education and training in particular, which is of direct relevance to this project. ECDL ROMANIA is active in the areas of social inclusion and eInclusion. The 'ECDL Values the Community' campaign aims to contribute positively to the community and through it, ECDL ROMANIA supported people with disabilities, marginalised and socially excluded groups in cooperation with the General Directorate for Social Security and Children Protection Sector 1 in Bucharest. Providing ICT training and the opportunity to achieve an internationally-recognised ICT certification, contributed to the social integration of vulnerable groups by improving, among other aspects, their chances of employability. As such ECDL ROMANIA's 'Training Without Boundaries' project addressed several of the areas for action identified at European level in the Disability Strategy and aimed at allowing the participation of excluded social groups in society, a crucial component of effective social inclusion. The 'Training Without Boundaries' project is a concrete measure undertaken by ECDL ROMANIA in implementing ECDL Foundation's commitment to the Digital Agenda for Europe, namely aiming at taking special measures to ensure that marginalised groups such as the unemployed, older people, people with disabilities and those in remote locations, are empowered to participate in the Information Society.
The 'Training Without Boundaries' project was initiated by ECDL ROMANIA and implemented in partnership with the Semper Excelsius Association, the General Directorate for Social Security and Children Protection Sector 1, Euroaptitudini and the Nicolae Iorga High School in Bucharest. The Semper Excelsius Association, active in the promotion of equal opportunities and accessibility for all citizens of Romania provided the project's beneficiary base. Training materials were provided by the Euroaptitudini ECDL Accredited Test Centre. A professor from the Nicolae Iorga High School, an ECDL trainer, delivered the courses. The cooperation between the involved partners was a critical factor that allowed for the successful roll-out of the project. The endorsement of the ECDL Programme by the Education, Research and Innovation Ministry in Romania further underlined the importance and relevance of ECDL certification for social inclusion as well as education in general. This endorsement was an additional factor contributing to the successful implementation of the project. Achieving internationally recognised certification of high quality and standards was a motivating factor for all participants, who were mainly eager to increase their employability prospects.
Initially, the main aim of the project was to provide training for the ECDL Start Certificate, which consists of four modules. However, as participants were highly motivated by the four modules and found that their newly acquired skills were of great benefit, they expressed interest in finishing seven modules and receiving the full ECDL certificate. Certification in the seven modules is an internationally-recognised standard of digital competence and provides a solid basis for enabling effective employability. The 'Training Without Boundaries' project was aimed primarily at increasing the employability of people with motor disabilities. By the end of the project, all candidates had succeeded in obtaining the full ECDL certificate and two of the participants concluded employment contracts thanks to the skills acquired through ECDL certification. Following their completion of this programme, two participants gained employment. This demonstrates the increased employability opportunities of the participants. The satisfaction of the beneficiaries with the offered training was reflected by the fact that they all aspired to receive the full ECDL certificate and increase their digital competence and skills to a level which would enable their full participation in the Information Society. In addition to enhancing their chances of employment, ECDL certification contributed significantly to raising the confidence of candidates with regard to their digital competence. The following testimonial exemplifies this boost in the confidence of participants:
"You have to get yourself together; you have to think that it is up to you to go on, to be able to change something. We are equal and we all have the same rights. The fact that I cannot walk anymore is just something a little different"
Daniela, 'Training Without Boundaries' ECDL graduate.
ECDL certification greatly benefited participants by bringing added value in terms of digital skills and also in providing evidence of the acquired skills. As this project has proved so successful, ECDL ROMANIA has decided to continue such initiatives and currently provides further opportunities to people with disabilities to acquire digital skills and competence. It is expected that the testimonials of further participants will continue to raise awareness of the potential of ECDL to positively impact the social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities in Romania.
The national, regional and local authorities that are engaged in the active inclusion of people with disabilities in Romania could greatly benefit and learn from this case. The project allowed for the delivery of ICT training to marginalised groups fostering the drive to promote independent living and participation in society. The ECDL certificates provided the participants with the opportunity to showcase their increased employability to potential employers, as these certificates constitute an internationally-recognised standard of ICT certification. Administrative sectors in Romania (at national, regional, and local levels) engaged in the active inclusion of vulnerable groups could benefit greatly from an exchange of good practices on this topic. The implemented collaboration model, which proved highly successful, could be replicated. Project replication could also be facilitated by the availability of public funds to facilitate people with disabilities in becoming digitally competent. The project was shared with a local public body engaged in the promotion of social inclusion activities for disabled persons. The success of this project and the decision by ECDL ROMANIA to continue the provision of the ECDL programme to disabled persons is a clear indication that it can be replicated in different contexts and ECDL ROMANIA can assist in sharing the project's methodology with other engaged actors. As a result of the success of this project, a second phase will start in April 2012. This phase will provide an additional group of participants with the opportunity to develop their digital competence and increase their employability via certification. This new phase of the project has been introduced due to the popularity and good results of the initial pilot.
The success of this project shows how ECDL training and certification are effective in the inclusion of people with motor disabilities into society.
The high degree of cooperation between the involved partners was critical in the successful roll-out of the project, which exemplifies that eInclusion aims are better achieved in a collaborative partnership framework which involves local actors.
Obtaining ECDL certificates boosts the employability of participants and results in increased employment prospects. This is all the more relevant to people with motor disabilities as their participation in the labour market is often limited due to physical barriers. ECDL certification therefore delivers value and helps to bridge the digital divide that affects people with disabilities.