The Ahead Journal


A Review of Inclusive Education
& Employment Practices ISSN 2009-8286

‘Inclusion Culture’ - Promoting Leadership in Intercultural Understanding within Mixed-ability Groups

Agnes Sarolta Fazekas-Vinkovits

Assistant Professor, ELTE E


About the Author


This article showcases the experiences of an international inclusive training coordinated by the European Network on Independent Living Youth Network (ENIL Youth) and Erasmus Student Network (ESN AISBL) in partnership with the European Youth Centre of the Council of Europe in the field of education, inclusion and intercultural understanding, bringing together young disabled and non disabled people together, held in in Strasbourg, France in May 2017. The purpose of a joint training was to create an opportunity for young disabled and non-disabled people to share skills and build each other’s capacity, thus enhancing intercultural understanding and promoting active citizenship. This training brought together young people from diverse backgrounds and cultures from all over Europe, precisely from 18 countries from the 47 Council of Europe Member States In the current climate, we strongly believe that intercultural skills and understanding are essential. Often young disabled people have limited opportunities to gain these skills and our organisational experience suggests that interculturally focused organisations struggle to be intersectionally inclusive, including disability. At the same time, disability organisations tend to neglect intercultural challenges. The training was based on the values of diversity, inclusion, human rights, equality, social model and human rights based approach to disability, and was in line with the principles and values of the Council of Europe Youth Department.

Background and overview of the training in a nutshell

The training aimed to promote cultural awareness, tolerance and solidarity among disabled and non-disabled young people. Specific objectives were:

  1. To understand the framework and the essential dimensions of intercultural learning
  2. To understand the concepts of inclusion and disability, including the concept of social model of disability
  3. To develop the skills and competence of participants around inclusive, intercultural activities, including how to celebrate diversity in non-formal education settings
  4. To enhance intercultural cooperation and leadership between young disabled and non-disabled people
  5. To provide methods and tools to take to local communities in order to promote inclusive intercultural activities

The programme was created with a six block structure reflecting the overall aims and objectives of the training. An ‘About Me’ form was distributed where all participants could indicate three things about them with an additional voluntary question – ‘What do you want people to know about you so that you can be fully included?

With the attendees’ consent, the programme team circulated their answers among them in order create a smoother start for the group bonding and group dynamic for the training. At the beginning of the study session, the programming team created a buddy system in order to support the mixing of the participants with different organisational affiliations. This approach also helped participants individually and interpersonally support and look for each other during the entire duration of the study session.

Block 1: Group building activities

The activity was embedded in an inclusive and safe(r) space where participants could have an overview of the week-long activity, sharing hopes, fears and expectations of the activity and working on group building. The aim of the group building was to break the ice and create a supportive basis to discuss various elements in a harmonic atmosphere where participants feel safe(r) and comfortable. Participants discussed the meaning of and shared their own views about what an inclusive space meant individually and collectively to them. A ‘Social Contract’ was created which supported them working together during the week in a safe(r) and inclusive environment, including elements such as ‘Understanding’; ‘Listen to each other’s needs and emotions’; ‘Communicate your Needs’; ‘Treat each other with empathy’; ‘Engage everyone’; ‘Focus on the learning aspects’; ‘Share your experience; ‘Smile’. In line with the overall purpose of Block 1, discussions and activities in an inclusive space created a good basis for participants to share their experiences, essential to establishing a common ground for the entire group to start working together in a respectful, inclusive way during the whole week.

Welcome Post
Fig 1: Inclusion Culture training welcome poster which includes Braille using adhesive bumpons.

Block 2: Inclusion in action - Creating a common ground

Block 2 introduced the participants to the concepts of forms of education - highlighting non-formal education, identities, intersectionality, intercultural learning and inclusion – and aimed to establish a diverse, inclusive atmosphere during the week. As individuals varied a lot in terms of background, experience, skills, knowledge and organisational affiliation, this Block was designed to allow suitable time and space in order to establish common understanding; and time to process knowledge and experiences through activities around different principles, values and approaches which frame the training. There were many discussions and activities around diverse layers of our identities and all the enablers, barriers, challenges, stereotypes which can be experienced. It is important to highlight that every person has an individual and unique lived experience, as well as possible collective experiences of characteristics of a group. Unwrapping the different dimensions of our identities facilitated the group’s comprehension of the more complex concept, intersectionality, described as

Disability does not exist in isolation; it must be considered in conjunction with other issues as well. If someone does identify as being a disabled person that may not be their dominant identity. (Todd, 2014, p.1)

Young people must not be viewed as a single, homogeneous subset of society defined exclusively by age, as is often the case. They have diverse identities that can result in multiple forms of discrimination and/or intersecting forms of oppression (European Youth Forum, 2015, p.8).

Participants explored and discussed the differences between the terminologies of exclusion, segregation, integration and inclusion. Exclusion is not providing the opportunity for others to be included. There are different types of exclusion (economic, sexual, professional, gender, nationality, etc.) There are specific exclusions – for example, age limit to certain movies, drinking age, etc. Segregation is when a certain minority group is excluded or separated, not just individuals. Participants highlighted that integration and inclusion are not the same terminologies but unfortunately they are often used interchangeably. Integration is allowing anyone who wants to play the game to join, however not making any adjustments in the rules or structures to ensure everyone has equal chances to participate. Inclusion is where everyone lives in the same community embracing the different characteristics and needs. Inclusion is a broad approach that understands and encourages people to be different and values, respects and celebrates people equally with their diverse identities and backgrounds. Being inclusive requires everyone’s commitment.

Block 3 Bird’s eye view and on the ground perspectives

In Block 3, participants looked at the overall purpose and role of the Council of Europe in general and how inclusion, intercultural learning and human rights have been promoted across Europe and especially through the Council of Europe structures. It included an opportunity for participants to think about how they could make real change in their own community through the new Council of Europe Disability Strategy 2017-2023

Block 4: Non-formal education: an inclusive tool for intercultural understanding

Having in mind the principles of non-formal education from Block 2, participants explored and got familiarised with the tools for nonformal education, including training manuals, for example:

  1. Bookmarks – Manual on combatting hate speech online
  2. Compass – Manual on Human Rights Education with Young People
  3. Compasito – Manual on Human Rights Education with Children

They investigated ways in which these tools could be helpful for implementing activities and became more confident and ready to take the initiative for their group work and the workshop preparations with the French High School students. Participants spent time in small groups working on their practice projects.

Block 5: Delivering inclusive intercultural activities

Block 5 facilitated the learning space and tools for participants to work together to develop and deliver activities and projects which support inclusive intercultural learning. Participants worked in groups on accessibility, intercultural learning. Three groups worked with French High Schools students from the local Lyceé Kleber School to explore the topics of inclusive societies, inequality and intercultural learning.

Key learning that came from working with the French High School Students included:

  1. How to produce something which was accessible and relevant and usable to French High School students, who hadn’t had a level of input of the entire training.
  2. Working with French High School students, the groups were encouraged to think about the reality outside the environment we had created within the training.
  3. They learned a great deal about the division of tasks and the importance of creating tools and resources relevant for many.
  4. Participants got to experience planning and delivering inclusive intercultural training sessions, for some participants this was their first experience.
  5. ESN and ENILYouth have created materials which can be promoted to increase inclusion and accessibility.

The concrete result of this block was that 50 French High School Students received human rights education around inclusion and inequality.

Block 6: Becoming an inclusive intercultural leader

Block 6 was designed to complete and reflect on all the activities undertaken during the entire week, and to act as a catalyst to enable participants to be multipliers and share what they have learned and experienced with their communities and daily realities. This ‘closing and the way forward’ block contained tools for participants to become individual multipliers. The second half of the block was dedicated to recalling the key learning outcomes during the training, review and critically and constructively evaluate positive and negative aspects of the various elements, re-evaluating the change in fears, hopes and expectations from the beginning of the training. To meet the need for closure from an individual and collective point of view, the block included space to express closing remarks both individually and collectively.

Overall outcomes from the training from the young peoples’ viewpoint

Bringing together young people from diverse backgrounds and cultures from all over Europe, from 18 countries from the 47 Council of Europe Member States, created the opportunity for them to bring their areas of expertise and knowledge, and individual lived experiences, to create a rich experience to exchange and build knowledge, ideas, strenghten solidarity, intercultural understanding and awareness about diverse backgrounds through:

  1. sharing different experiences
  2. working together as a group and respcting each other and celebrate diversity
  3. be open and aware of individual’s needs
  4. design the environment universally to the greatest extent possible attracting a wider number of young people to become involved with a more extensive number of activities.

Participants summarised inclusive intercultural learning by using Benjamin Franklin’s statement:

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I will remember, involve me and I learn.’

Participants mentioned that they gained skills and experienes in working as a team and taking into account the different learning and access needs to create an inclusive environment to the greatest extent possible.

Gaining project planning and management skills were highlighted and the workshop planning and delivery working with French High School Students were definitely a challenging, but rewarding new experience in terms of gaining skills.

Connecting the learning from this training to their current studies encouraged participants bring their inclusive, intercultural awareness to their individual lives.

In terms of knowledge, participants highlighted that by the end of the training they learned a lot of new things, and strengthened their knowledge in some topics which they were familiar with before but now had the addition of the inclusion and diversity aspect. Intersectionality as a concept was definitely a new area for many participants.

In terms of attitudes, participants highlighted that by the end of the training they were more comfortable to ask someone if they needed any support, were more patient towards each other and each other’s access needs, and the inclusion of others. They felt encouraged by working together. They highlighted that in general, they gained more confidence in the value of their personal experiences and therefore to work in their local communities on the topics covered during the training.

Participants comments highlighted their learning during the weeklong training:

  1. Learned that we are all equal and everyone has a right to be heard
  2. Approach disabled people and offer support without being scared of mistakes
  3. Perception by others can be just one aspect of one’s identity and often that is being a disabled person
  4. It is important to show solidarity and to work together for meaningful social change
  5. Everybody involved is needed to make inclusion happen – inclusion only works if all of us are participating in the process of creating an inclusive environment
  6. Inclusion happens when we are aware of each other’s needs and adapt to the situations we are in
  7. Inclusion is mostly about attitude and willingness rather than expertise on methodology because there is no such thing as a ‘one solution’ for inclusion
  8. The identity(s) that a one holds closest to themselves are not recognised by the wider world always.
Group Photo
Fig 2: Inclusion Culture training group photo

Recommendations for Organisations

This training has been an exceptional opportunity to run a mixedability activity which is not primarily focused on disability. This is an essential step because it embraces the concept of intersectionality and the belief that full inclusion happens when it supports all people, regardless of their background or needs, in a safe(r) space. We believe that this unique experience of collaboration encourages various stakeholders, educators, practicioners in the field of education to strenghten inclusion, intercultural understanding and intersectionality in their practice. Both organisations have strong networks in the field of intercultural understanding and disability. However, the framework which the European Youth Centre has and has offered was a perfect space to bring these two fields together. We have benefited from the input of the Council of Europe Youth Department - particularly around intercultural learning and the non-formal education. We were delighted to see that this activity has brought a variety of benefits because of its inclusive intercultural nature.

Specific recommendations include:

  1. more cooperation in general with various stakeholders, organisations on inclusion, diversity
  2. more training on inclusion, diversity in cooperation with various stakeholders
  3. more Human Rights Education in classrooms.

The outcomes of the training can be adapted by various stakeholders, considering the mixture of different educational methods, including our non-formal intercultural inclusive educational methods to their practices.


Last but not least, accommodating the diverse learning and access needs to create an inclusive training session was made possible due to ‘Having a yes approach’ to make the environment inclusive to the greatest extent possible, due to the open mindset, collaboration, support, patience, creativity, commitment of the programming team (Zara Todd, Safi Sabuni, Frank Sioen, Eliza Popper, Agnes Sarolta Fazekas, and László Milutinovits – Educational Advisor). Their devotion of energy, time, endless motivation, together with the enthusiasm of all participants and support we have received from various staff of the Council of Europe Youth Department has been a critical part of the success of the project.

The variety of facilities provided (listing a few without the full compostion) for personal assistance users, Speech to Text Reporters (Palantypists) (Julia Jacobie, Norma MacHaye) was not only essential for disabled young people who have sensory impairments, but it was beneficial for the access needs of the entire group of participants (to be better supported in case of different level of level of English language skills). Accommodation of assistance animals and providing accessible workplaces also played their part.

Tools that were used to support the access needs of everyone, including an extensive Access Needs Form for all participants in order to create an inclusive way of planning the training in terms of educational content and facilitating training delivery using multiple ways of representation, action and engagement – following the guidelines of the Universal Design for Learning (Meyer, Rose, Gordon 2014). Examples included making training materials available in multiple formats, the training methodology was flexible to meet diverse learning and access needs, and support mechanisms were in place. Further examples include the ‘envelope station’ where people could leave nice messages to each other that were also available in Braille (both in Russian and English) format and the welcome poster and name tags of individuals were also available in electronic, hard copy and Braille (both in Russian and English). The methodology was to use sticky bumpons (adhesive tactile markers) and the online platform of Byron Knoll’s free tool which translates English characters to Grade 1 Braille. and Russian Braille conventer

Last but not least, capturing the inclusive intercultural nature of the training and the principles and values of the Council of Europe Youth Department could not happen without the excellent work of our Film-Expert, Patrick Doodt. We believe that the accessible video-report will engage various stakeholders, educators and practitioners to include intercultural inclusive elements in their practice.

The full version of the Final report will be available on the Council of Europe website: project-reports (will be updated with our training report in the upcoming months, currently the database is until 2016) The full version of the Training Manual can be requested at the European Network on Independent Living Secretariat via:

Contact: 21b99725


Literature Resources

Todd, Zara: Presentation (offline - upon request) Training Session on: Understanding Disability and Inclusion. MapAbility Training & Conference of Erasmus Student Network, Brussels, Belgium, 2nd of June, 2014 p.1 special-needs-launching-conferen

European Youth Forum: Multiple Discrimination and Young People in Europe. Brussels, Belgium 2015 URL: Multiple-discrimination-and-young-people-in-Europe.pdf

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.

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