The EPR (European Platform for Rehabilitation), the network of the leading providers of services to people with disabilities commemorated their quarter-century milestone with three intense days of workshops, presentations, brainstorm sessions and informal meet-ups held at several Utrecht venues.
The delegates from all corners of Europe, from Portugal to Latvia, travelled to the city to discuss the most urgent matters of their organisations and for the users of their services, and to lay down the pathway for mutual collaboration in the next 25 years.
Facilitated by Peter Woodward, an experienced and passionate workshop leader who has been working for many years with the organisations that push forward the sustainable development agenda, the event was a runaway success. The conference participants had a chance to learn from case studies, ask questions to the panellists representing the leading European organisations that support people with disabilities, and to forge new connections and networks during round-the-table discussions and small workgroup sessions.
The conference formally opened with a keynote speech on Entrepreneurship in Social Rehabilitation from Zsolt Bugarszki, the lead of the Social Entrepreneurship MA programme at Tallinn University in Estonia. In his thought-provoking presentation he spoke about fostering and developing the inner capacity and drive for self-sufficient living amongst people with disabilities in the communities where the opportunities for government financial support are limited. He spoke about his experience of embracing “the digital economy” hype to provide network-building platforms and skills for both community-based service users and service providers. “Do you think this approach may work?” he asked the audience. The majority answered with an optimistic “yes”.
“Innovation” was the key theme for the rest the day. How to make the disability services “future-ready”? How to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are not losing out in the economy that is becoming more and more reliant on automation and digital literacy? What are the unique opportunities that digital economies can create for people with disabilities? What are the legal frameworks required to provide the optimum support to the users of disability services and their families? And last but not least, what do the users themselves want? How can the service providers help them to feel wanted and accepted within their communities and to become active contributors and engaged citizens?
While there are no quick and easy solutions to these questions, the event was an overwhelmingly positive experience for its participants.
Seasoned EPR members welcomed the influx of fresh faces and ideas, while new joiners were eager to dip into the pool of shared expertise and knowledge. Q&A sessions prompted an open debate and reflection and stimulated mutual learning that will, no doubt, lead to more ideas, better initiatives and proposals, more efficient allocation of funding, and effective implementation of the existing policies and projects.
The second half of the day concluded with a Gala Dinner at Ottone in the evening, located inside a refurbished 19th century church on Kromme Nieuwegracht. There, in the heart of the city that is well-known for its passion for good deeds and better future for all members of the community, the discussions of the day continued in a much more relaxed atmosphere. The evening continued with heated but non-formal discussion and general socialising in the ballroom. Drinks and three course meals were provided to the distinguished guests accompanied by an enthusiastic musical four-man band. Highlights of the evening included a quiz and of course the awarding of the prizes for EPR members who had come up with the best ideas of how to tackle issues with regards to people and groups with disabilities.
Two members of EPR were nominated for second and third prize and they had the opportunity to present their concept to the audience; however first prize went to BFW Köln; one of the German members of EPR with their idea, ‘Go2Job’.
Go2Job offers a modular qualification programme that lasts for a period of up to 12 months. The programme starts with a 4 week profiling period where the goal is to identify job-related as well as private competencies that correlate with integration objectives. The occupational requirement profile of the identified integration objective is then matched with already present competencies.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the EPR for choosing UtrechtCentral.com to cover their event. Also, special thanks goes out to the Secretary General for the EPR, Laura Jones and Alicia Gomez Campos; Policy, Communication and Project Officer at the EPR for their belief in our collaboration. We wish you all the best and hope that the EPR are able to create many good memories and bright ideas for the years to come.