There is a considerable need for the development of educational training for staff and volunteers working with youths with Down syndrome (DS) or intellectual disabilities, especially in relation to physical activities. Down syndrome is a common learning disability, and the condition occurs in approximately 1 in 700 births (U.S Department of Health & Human Service, 2017). There is no cure for the condition, instead, interventions are encouraged to promote independence, social inclusion, physical and mental development (European Commission, 2017, European Commission, 2010, Heller et al., 2003).
Many individuals with DS already have or will develop physical health problems, however many still have sedentary lifestyles with little physical exercise (Bull, 2011; Bertapelli, et al., 2016; Heller et al., 2003; Tsimaras & Fotiadou, 2004; Balic, Mateos & Blasco, 2000; Esposito et al., 2012). For individuals with DS, one of the primary reasons for participating in activities is the social interaction with peers (Sayers Menear, 2007), however currently many people trying or considering including this group are feeling inadequately equipped on how to best support, motivate and include individuals with disabilities as they lack knowledge not only about their needs but also about their skills (Thai & Kingsley, 2017; Sayers Menear, 2007; Jones, 2003; Kozub & Porretta, 1998). Being aware of needs and strengths can, however change attitudes and encourage staff to devise an integrational programme that promotes inclusion and engagement (Spencer-Cavaliere et al., 2017; Campbell et al., 2003).
Participation in our society relates to the fundamental rights as EU citizens, including full access to cultural, sports and leisure activities. The proposed project adheres to the European priorities agreed in: a) The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A renewed commitment to a barrier-free Europe (November 2010), b) The Declaration of the European Parliament of 18 April 2012 on children with Down syndrome, c) The European Commission Communication 'The European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion' (December 2010) and d) The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which entered into force in the EU in 2011.
The outcome will be a functional continuing education and training package for organisations who works or are interested in working with individuals with DS or intellectual disabilities. This will enhance the possibilities for individuals with DS or intellectual disabilities to participate in sports activities and at the same time have the increased opportunities to become more integrated with our European society, which will contribute to their empowerment.
The training course will be in modular form and will be piloted on staff, youth workers and volunteers in the following partner's countries (SE, LT, HR, RO) in order to ensure the effectiveness and cultural adaptation. A website will be developed which will contain all the produced material, reports and outcomes in the partner languages.
The project will bridge the gap between higher education and user organisations with limited access to knowledge about barriers and variables that may affect participation in physical activities. By having a consortium of health/sport science, psychology and pedagogical experts in accordance to the EQF, ECVET and EQAVET frameworks together with NGOs that work directly with individuals with disabilities, we have ensured that a functional training program can be delivered as the results of the proposed programme of work.
The outcome will be a functional continuing education and training package for staff and volunteers in organisations who currently work or are interested in working with this target group. Inclusion of people with disabilities is a European wide problem, and by utilising a transnational project approach, we will be able to generate training materials that function effectively in the context of European diversity in social and cultural aspects. By increasing knowledge and awareness of how to support and motivate individuals with DS or intellectual disabilities to participate in sports activities, do we not only promote social inclusion but also empower individuals to develop life skills and a better quality of life.
The developed material will include training about equity, diversity and inclusion to combative segregation and discrimination. The longer-term benefits will be a framework of implementation strategies and skill sets for organisations to utilise via a succinct and economically viable training module. All the material developed is open resource and available to download at the website of the project. The dissemination and sustainability plan ensures that a wide group of stakeholders across Europe will be reached.