Focus on the Person: Disability Awareness Programme successfully implemented in schools in Greece since 2009
Based on the values of human rights, the educational programme aims to help learners shape their attitudes towards diversity, while introducing them to the notions of respect, social acceptance and equity.
Field of Action: Primary and secondary schools – during school hours
Target Group: Mainstream learners (7 to 17 years old)
Main Features of the Programme: An Experiential Non-Formal Educational Programme. Open, informative dialogue promoting awareness. The programme is implemented and co-ordinated by motivational speakers (young people with physical impairments) from the Association of Social Responsibility for Children and Youth (SKEP).
The main aim of the initiative is to fight ignorance and deconstruct stereotypes in order to facilitate the inclusive education process.
SKEP is striving for a barrier-free and rights-based inclusive society. SKEP strongly believes that education removes barriers for people with disabilities and is the answer to social insensitivity, apathy and indiﬀerence. We emphasise the role and importance of schools in developing social consciousness, eliminating prejudice and promoting the inclusion of socially vulnerable groups.
SKEP’s Disability Awareness Programme ‘Focus on the Person’ has been conducted systematically since 2009 and is approved by the Greek Ministry of Education. The programme is implemented nationwide in mainstream schools throughout the school year and during school hours and is free of charge.
Since the beginning the programme has:
- raised awareness among more than 150,000 mainstream learners;
- annually carried out 10 educational programmes per school week.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 14% of the world’s population lives with a disability.
The World Report on Disability reveals that discrimination is the worst and most persistent enemy of more than one billion disabled people. Discrimination is based on deeply rooted beliefs. Society is characterised by stereotypes and prejudice regarding diversity. The lack of everyday contact and ignorance are the main reasons behind the negative attitudes concerning disability.
Research conducted in the European Union regarding disability states that the absence of awareness and educational campaigns for learners:
- perpetuates stereotypes and prejudices;
- strengthens discrimination and exclusion.
In Greece, 76% of citizens believe that school plays an important role in battling discrimination (European Commission – Discrimination in the European Union, 2006).
Furthermore, in SKEP’s 2019 Panhellenic Public Opinion Poll ‘Tracing Attitudes, Perceptions and Behaviour towards Disability’, 91% of the participants agreed with the establishment of a curriculum in schools for acceptance of diversity.
For more information on the Public Opinion Poll see the ‘Evaluation of the initiative’ section.
The creation of SKEP in 2008 was directly linked with its founding members’ principles and belief that embracing diversity starts in schools. Socially exclusion can be prevented if children learn to see the person and not the disability. The ultimate goal is to co‑exist harmoniously in a constantly changing and evolving world.
Changing attitudes towards disability is a topic of extensive research over the past decades. It is also SKEP’s main goal.
Global research and surveys indicate that one of the most difficult aspects of diversity is the negativity and indifference of members of society, due to the lack of visibility and exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday life. Social exclusion violates the fundamental right of every person to live freely, without discrimination. (“Social exclusion and Disabled People - Sociological point of view”, Spiridoula Kourtesi, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 2013).
Disability is a social issue rather than an individual one. Society must comprehend that most problems faced by people with disabilities are caused by the structure of society and the way it defines interaction (“Social exclusion and Disabled People - Sociological point of view”, Spiridoula Kourtesi, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 2013.).
The lack of integration results in:
- marginalisation of people with disabilities;
- ignorance and fear stemming from inexperience in understanding, living or working alongside people with disabilities.
The National Disability Authority in Ireland’s Strategic Options for influencing public attitudes towards people with disabilities (2004) concludes that the primary reason for negative attitudes and perceptions of disability is the lack of visibility and integration of disabled people in mainstream society.
The World Report on Disability suggests that organisations focusing on disability, such as SKEP, play a vital role in improving public understanding of disability, confronting negative perceptions, and representing disability fairly. The gap in the public’s understanding of disability can be bridged through education and public information.
In 2014, the England and Wales disability equality charity Scope commissioned a series of research projects and published a report entitled Current Attitudes Towards Disabled People. The findings suggested that large sections of the population held negative attitudes towards disabled people, due to a lack of understanding about disability and about disabled people’s needs.
According to the report, negative attitudes and stereotypes towards disability can be altered through:
- Educating people about disability
- Creating opportunities for everyday interactions
- Shaping positive attitudes from an early age.
The report suggests that public education prevents discrimination and the stigma associated with disability. Over 28% of people claimed that speaking directly to disabled people about their needs made them feel more confident when interacting with them. Investing in public awareness campaigns could alleviate the everyday negative attitudes faced by disabled people.
There is a wealth of research to suggest that attitudes associated with disability can improve when mixed groups have more opportunities to positively interact in everyday life. In the report, more than 33% of people stated that getting to know a person with disability would make them feel more confident around them. On the other hand, research found that 27% of people have rarely interacted with disabled people.
Attitudes towards disability and disabled people are much more likely to improve through more frequent interactions between disabled people and non-disabled people in everyday situations (Scope, 2014).
In conclusion, several surveys have shown that barriers for people with disabilities can be removed through interactive educational awareness programmes. Such programmes may prevent discrimination and stigma and improve attitudes and behaviours towards diversity.
How was the initiative/policy implemented?
SKEP’s Disability Awareness Programme ‘Focus on the Person’ has been conducted nationwide since 2009 and is approved by the Greek Ministry of Education. The programme is implemented free of charge in mainstream primary and secondary schools throughout the school year (September to June). It takes place for one or two teaching hours, during school hours, and up to three classes (90 learners) participate.
It is implemented and co-ordinated by SKEP’s motivational speakers (young people with physical impairments) and is designed according to learners’ age groups and to the different needs that arise.
Primary education: ‘Approaching Diversity’
The motivational speakers describe everyday life for people with disabilities in Greece in a simple and understandable way for younger learners. This is essentially an introduction to the notion of diversity.
- The speaker describes their disability and explains daily issues, such as their routine, accessibility, obstacles they face and opportunities which arise.
- Learners feel at ease, as the speaker creates a safe environment in which they are free to ask questions.
- Through this open dialogue, the speakers promote learners’ active participation and tackle issues regarding diversity, disability, equity and inclusion.
If the school requests that the programme continues for two teaching hours, the co‑ordinator and motivational speaker run the ‘Think Differently’ experiential/interactive disability awareness workshop. The workshop helps learners to understand the everyday obstacles for disabled citizens and the solutions that exist through the use of games.
Secondary education: ‘Disability as a Challenge: Barriers and Solutions’
This programme mainly involves open dialogue with learners in secondary education. Interaction with people with disabilities offers learners the opportunity to understand the concepts of diversity, social acceptance and equity in a simple and personal yet lively way. Since this programme is aimed at is aimed at older learners, it consists of multi-thematic speeches for a wider dissemination of information.
Above all, the open dialogues within the school framework enable learners to understand the everyday life of a young person with disabilities through spontaneous and frank discussions. Learners hear real-life stories about people who have found ways to overcome obstacles and defeat adversity. The programme:
- familiarises learners with disability;
- offers participants a life lesson by creating a new communication code, building relationships of understanding, respect and acceptance through the experiential process;
- reinforces the notions of social inclusion, camaraderie and awareness;
- promotes trust in themselves and others.
Who worked on and sustained the initiative/policy (key partnerships)?
Executives both with and without impairment (sensory and motor) within SKEP have worked with and sustained the programme since its implementation. More specifically:
- Head of Disability Awareness Educational Programmes
- Head of Communication with Mainstream Schools
- Experiential Activities Co-ordinator
- Motivational Speakers.
Since 2008, SKEP has collaborated with more than 800 public and private schools.
Key partnerships include:
- Stavros Niarchos Foundation
- John S Latsis Public Benefit Foundation
- Bodossaki Foundation
- Solidarity Now
- Onassis Foundation
- Marianna V Vardinoyiannis Foundation
- Ministry of Education
- General Secretariat for Youth
- National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
- West Attica University
- University of Ioannina
- Palaio Faliro
- The Greek Ombudsman – Independent Authority
- Center for Education and Rehabilitation for the Blind (KEAT), Hellenic Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity
- Greek Paralympic Committee
- Special Olympics Hellas
- Greek Parliament Foundation.
When did the initiative/change/policy development take place? What was the timescale?
The ‘Focus on the Person’ programme has been systematically held since 2009, throughout the school year (from September until June).
SKEP implements 10 educational programmes per school week, on an annual basis.
The programme’s key outcomes are described through a qualitative analysis, entitled The Educational Programme ‘Focus on the Person’ in Action: Observation in the School Context. It was conducted in collaboration with the Department of Psychology of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
The qualitative analysis concluded that SKEP’s educational programme seems to help familiarise learners with the reality of disability. This intervention may be the trigger for creating a school as a framework of equal opportunities and inclusion in a community.
For a more detailed account of the qualitative analysis please see the ‘Evaluation of the initiative’ section.
Impact on participating mainstream learners
- Familiarisation with the notion of disability
- Understanding the daily obstacles faced by people with disabilities, as well as the potential they possess
- Facilitating communication between young people with and without disabilities
- Improving learners’ self-confidence and trust in themselves, while enhancing their ability to overcome obstacles (hearing true accounts of people managing to defeat personal adversities)
- Promoting the notions of co-existence, empathy, solidarity and acceptance
- Energising reflexes of solidarity and responsibility, aiming to empower the social consciousness of the next generation.
The educational programme contributes towards learners’ psycho-social development, enabling them to view both society and themselves in different ways:
- by hearing true accounts of people defeating personal adversities, learners improve their self-confidence and trust in themselves, while enhancing their ability to overcome obstacles;
- by interacting with diversity, learners develop empathy and a sense of right and wrong, helping them to become a beacon of change within the community.
The attempt to familiarise the wider public with the notion of disability and to deconstruct stereotypes, prejudice, bias, indifference and social exclusion is a long-term endeavour. It requires considerable time and systematic awareness-raising campaigns to create an inclusive society for all.
SKEP is persistent in its efforts to achieve a multifaceted effect and a sustainable social impact. It does this by creating a strong network and exchanging methodologies and best practices with partners on a national, European and international level.
- Institutional Approval
Since 2015, the Greek Ministry of Education has systematically approved SKEP’s request for ‘An experiential programme of Familiarity with Diversity: open dialogue discussions focusing on informing and raising awareness on disability, conducted by young people with disabilities’ (Approval: Experiential Programme in Primary and Secondary Schools (General and Vocational) Education). SKEP is the only association that has been granted this approval, which is renewed on an annual basis following review and evaluation by the Ministry of Education.
- Learners who have participated in the programme throughout the years have shown that they:
- often need only one school hour to familiarise themselves with disability;
- are open to listening, looking, asking questions and finally accepting diversity;
- are willing to share their own experiences of exclusion or discrimination;
- can become ambassadors, by changing their behaviour and influencing others around them.
- The SKEP team is diverse, promoting gender equality and consisting of people with and without disabilities. By learning how to work closely, the team has become:
- More inclusive
- More innovative
- More creative
- More engaged.
The involvement of this diverse team in the creation and implementation of the Educational Disability Awareness Programme makes it relevant to the end users. An initiative can only have impact through the scope of those involved.
Evaluation of the initiative
Qualitative analysis: The Educational Programme ‘Focus on the Person’ in Action: Observation in the School Context, in collaboration with the Department of Psychology of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
During the 2017–2018 school year, SKEP evaluated the impact of the ‘Focus on the Person’ programme on learners, through a qualitative analysis. This involved:
- on-going co-operation and feedback from the teachers participating in the programme;
- feedback from the learners, always in collaboration with the school;
- collection and processing of data, in collaboration with Professor Frosso Motti‑Stefanidi Ph.D, from the Department of Psychology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
The qualitative analysis took place in 14 schools (7 primary and 7 secondary) in the wider region of Attica. In total, 340 learners participated: 173 primary aged and 167 secondary aged learners. Of these, 166 were boys and 174 were girls.
The qualitative analysis was designed to capture the influence of the programme on primary and secondary aged learners. By observing and recording the learners’ and teachers’ emotions in the familiar classroom environment, conclusions could be drawn that outlined the impact of the programme.
The conclusions were presented by the Professor Frosso Motti-Stephanidi at the First Interactive Conference on ‘Fostering Respect and Acceptance of Diversity in Schools’ – Educational Approaches for the Social Inclusion of Young People with Disability. The conference was organised by the Marianna V Vardinoyannis Foundation and SKEP and took place on 30 November 2018 in Zappeion, Athens.
It concluded that SKEP’s educational programme:
- raised learners’ awareness of disability: learners expressed more positive than negative feelings about this experience and realised through social comparison that people with disabilities have needs, difficulties and abilities like the rest of the world;
- helped learners to understand the daily barriers faced by people with disabilities to realise their potential: learners showed empathy for the speakers’ mental resilience. The speakers’ personalities played an important role in this. The learners were impressed by the openness of the speakers with regard to their disability, character and mental resilience;
- contributed to the review and change of attitudes, perceptions and feelings about disability in a significant percentage of learners.
Based on evidence, SKEP’s educational programme seems to help familiarise learners with the reality of disability. This intervention may be the trigger for creating a school as a framework of equal opportunities and inclusion in a community; a school that promotes empathy, dialogue, co-existence, acceptance, solidarity and respect for the uniqueness of everyone.
Panhellenic Public opinion poll: ‘Tracing Attitudes, Perceptions and Behaviour towards Disability’.
The poll was conducted by SKEP, in collaboration with PRORATA SA, between 26 September and 11 October 2019. It aimed to record the opinion of Greek citizens regarding:
- perceptions and attitudes towards disability;
- the role that government and the educational system need to play in battling discrimination.
In total, 3,273 people took part in the poll. The overwhelming majority (97%) agreed that ‘all people should have equal rights, without discrimination’. In addition:
- 91% of the participants agreed with the establishment of a curriculum in schools for acceptance of diversity;
- 9 out of 10 participants believed that the lack of disability awareness programmes in schools perpetuates stereotypes and prejudices;
- 8 out of 10 participants held the view that the lack of disability awareness programmes in schools strengthens stigma and marginalisation;
- participants believed that the most important role in battling prejudices and stereotypes should be played by the state (83%), the family (80%) and the media (54%).
- participants agreed that familiarity with disability reduces levels of discomfort when engaging with people with disabilities;
- younger participants (18–34 years old) had a more passive attitude towards defending the rights of people with disabilities than the rest of the population;
- participants believed that people with disabilities find it extremely difficult to work in the private sector.
The majority believed that the absence of a relevant school curriculum perpetuates the problem (88%) and reinforces stigmatisation and marginalisation (78%) and should be taken seriously into account in educational state planning. It is not a coincidence that the research participants almost universally agreed (91%) that a curriculum should be implemented in schools that seeks to change learners’ views on diversity and introduce the concept of social acceptance and equality.
SKEP’s steps towards an inclusive education
According to UNESCO (2017): 'Education policy can influence and support inclusive thinking and practices by establishing the equal right of every individual to education’. Following 12 years of experience in implementing innovative educational programmes in schools, SKEP actively supports the inclusive education process in Greece and abroad.
Through advocacy and policy monitoring SKEP focuses on creating national and international synergies by sharing know how and exchanging methodologies and best practices.
- In Greece:
- The first interactive conference, ‘Promoting Respect and Acceptance of Diversity in Schools, was organised by the Marianna V Vardinoyannis Foundation and SKEP. It took place on 30 November 2018 at the Zappeion Megaron in Athens. The conference was supported by the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Prokopios Pavlopoulos. It focused on the significance of implementing new educational tools to prepare learners to accept and embrace diversity.
- SKEP officially presented its proposal to establish an innovative educational programme within the school curriculum to the Deputy Minister of Education and Religious Affairs, Mrs Sofia Zacharaki, on 17 December 2019. The programme, titled ‘A Society for All’, is based on empathy and the development of learners’ social and communicative skills. The proposed programme leads to schools that promote dialogue, co-existence, empathy, solidarity, acceptance, the development of learners’ personality and respect for the uniqueness of each individual.
- On 11 December 2019, SKEP held an interactive debate at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, titled ‘Discovering and defining my personality in school’. The event was supported by the Permanent Delegation of Greece to UNESCO. Academic experts and disability advocates presented an extensive analysis of best practices and international scientific data focusing on equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities.