Inclusion of people with Intellectual Disability in a multi-lingual environment

Advice on including people with intellectual disabilities in a multi-lingual or multi-cultural environment

From our experience on the Journey to Belonging Partnership (see Journey To Belonging for more information) we gained experience in supporting people to participate in meaningful ways in projects that involve more than one country or language.

We have presented some of our ideas below, which may be of help if you are planning a project that involves multiple languages or cultures, to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities can participate and contribute in meaningful ways: 

  • During our project, when we evaluated one of our first workshops with participants who have intellectual disabiltiies and asked them what had worked and not worked, they indicated that having rest breaks, including being able to lie down and take a nap if necessary was one of the areas that the learners had most valued.
  • People with intellectual disabilities may find that the amount of new information involved in travelling, communicating with new people, experiencing a new culture and participating in learning workshops on significant topics can be tiring. To support people well we ensured that there were regular breaks during all workshops, and where possible a room available for people to take some 'time out'.
  • There can be communication challenges involved in supporting people with intellectual disabilities to take part in workshops in which many presentations may be provided in different languages. Many of the learners may not speak the working language of the project. Many presenters  may also not not speak the official working language. To ensure smooth communication, we agreed to circulate the presentations before each mobility. Then the staff/trainers/supporters had an opportunity to prepare translation into the learner's first language. During each mobility, all the presenters were asked to speak slowly and take regular pauses. This allowed the supporters/staff to translate the phrases in 'whispered speech' directly for the learners they were supporting. This system worked really well for us and proves the viability of supporting people with intellectual disabilities to fully and meaningfully participate in a multi-lingual environment. It should be acknowledged that this can be a tiring experience for supporters and they too need regular breaks and time out.
  • All materials used in workshops need to be provided in easy to read format. This means having graphics to explain the text, having simple language and providing materials in attractive formats.
  • Having schedules in easy to read formats and graphical representation was very useful to the learners.
  • We found that the learners really appreciated having as much information as possible to help in preparation before travelling. Accessible information that helps to understand the new environment and learning opportunities the participants will experience is very useful and facilitates greater enjoyment and learning during the actual exchange.
  • Many of the participants in our project told us that small group discussions were less intimidating to contribute to than large group discussions. We kept a balance between both so that the large group could learn together and the smaller groups could discuss and provide feedback.
  • A mix of activities is important over the course of a day - active participation in a range of activities, e.g. ice-breakers, discussions, practical tasks and presentations can help ensure that individual's different preferences for participation are supported and that everyone has a chance to contribute.
  • Evaluation activities should be accessible, and can include evaluation workshops and easy-to-read evaluation forms (using graphical representations of the workshops that had taken place) to ensure meaningful participation from all users. It is very important that issues raised during evaluation are taken into account in future workshops or meetings.
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN and MAKE NEW FRIENDS while learning!

Some pointers for organising cross-border seminars in which people with intellectual disabilities participate

  • Many of the people we support have mobility needs. In organising a seminar or workshop you will need to book venues that are acessible. This is true both for the places people will stay overnight and the venues where they will work during the day.
  • Many cities and locations have a limited number of hotels and venues with good accessibility for groups. This means it is very important to book especially early to ensure that all the mobility needs of the participants can be met.
  • For people with all kinds of needs we have found that limiting airport transfers is better. This may involve booking earlier flights or even incurring extra costs for more expensive, single-trip itineraries. In our experience this is worthwhile as there can be limited time between transfers at airports and this can be stressful and complicated depending on the needs that are to be taken into account. Of course don't let this stop you participating - if there is no other option a transfer should be well planned and all airlines informed of mobility needs in advance! But we have found where possible it works well to limit transfers. 
  • For any learning activity across borders it is nice to be able to share cultural experiences. If you are booking restaurants, sightseeing tours, or visits to areas of scenic or cultural interest make sure all parts of the journey include wheelchair-friendly access and toilets. You could be surprised how many restaurants and amenities do not have accessible toilets and it is important that this is discovered in advance and an alternative venue arranged so that everyone can participate.



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