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Social Inclusion with European Student Network

When a fellow EVS volunteer asked me to help her run some social inclusion events for her association, of course I agreed. Joanna is from Portugal and like me she works for an NGO in Belgium for nine months as part of her European Voluntary Service. She is based in Brussels and works for the Erasmus Student’s Network (ESN), the biggest student’s network in Europe.

From 16th – 19th of April ESN held a range of different activities titled Social Inclusion Days. These two weeks of specialised activities were intended to promote inclusion within Erasmus project, but also to raise awareness of different disabilities with international members of the student network.. The two activities I helped coordinate were to raise awareness of visual impairment and to speak about my experience of participating in an adapted Erasmus mobility project.

The first activity was an intercultural dinner with a focus on visual impairment. Students brought dishes to share and had the chance to learn about visual impairment, braille, access technology and guide dogs. I spoke with several students about how I manage daily tasks with the help of things like technology and adaptations around the home and I gave a short demonstration of Braille. Many of them were really interested in my experience with the EVS programme, and of course my guide dog got lots of attention too.

We had a paper on the wall that asked people to write what they thought visually impaired people can and cannot do. This was my favourite aspect of the activity; being able to explain how blind people can actually cook, and we can in fact use computers. I enjoyed doing some mythbusting and I felt that I really managed to make them see that blind people are really not so different from our sighted peers.

The second activity for the Social Inclusion events was and “Art in the Dark’ session. In this session I again explained a little about Braille, but I also asked students to make a shape using play-dough while blindfolded, and then to swap their creation with their neighbour so that they then had to try to guess what shape their neighbour had created just by using touch. I felt that this was a good activity to demonstrate just how much information you can gain through your fingers , if you only try. I also demonstrated how we can use colour detecting gadgets and appps to distinguish the colour of our clothes and I explained a little about how I do my makeup even though I cannot see. We again had the questions about what VI people can or cannot do and in fact we found many similar answers to the ones given at the first event. This was a really fun session with lots of laughter and I felt that it had been enjoyable and informative at the same time.

I hope that the ESN Social Inclusion Days helped raise awareness of different disabilities and encouraged students to consider how to make activities more inclusive. If you’d like to know more about ESN and their Social Inclusion Days, click here

ESNGroup making shapes with play-dough while blindfolded