The European society benefits enormously from the positive contribution from people with disabilities. However, a lot of the time, those people are faced with considerable challenges and barriers in their everyday lives, which limit their active inclusion and full participation in the society. Looking at the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, accessibility, participation and equality are three of the eight priority areas for the European Union. Those three areas aim to make goods and services accessible to people with disabilities, allow people with disabilities to enjoy all benefits of an EU citizenship and combat discrimination and promote equal opportunities. Making constant improvements in these areas will enable full and effective participation of the 80 million people with disabilities living in the EU.
The INTERREG South Baltic programme incorporates this disability strategy into its working and through the joint cooperation between the South Baltic countries, helps to develop and implement projects whose goals converge with the goals of the strategy.
Two INTERREG South Baltic projects which are worth highlighting regarding their work on accessibility and inclusion are ‘Baltic For All’ and ‘South Coast Baltic’.‘Baltic For All’ is a project between partners from Germany, Lithuania and Poland, whose main objective is to increase skilled labour in the blue economy sectors of the South Baltic Area through enabling the disabled people and the young to acquire professional qualifications in the area of teaching water sports such as sailing, windsurfing or kitesurfing to the disabled, and have the possibility to gain employment stability.The project idea arose as the project partners identified a common problem which is faced by several of the South Baltic countries, namely the unemployment among the disabled and the young – at the time of developing of the project idea, the rate of professional activity among the disabled in Poland was only 26.8% and 46.5% in Lithuania. The project partners also identified an unfulfilled niche in the market – the lack of certified water sports instructors educated in the area of teaching the disabled. Fulfilling this niche, by allowing the unemployed in the target demographic to become certified water sports instructors, will allow to take an important step in tackling the unemployment problem and will play a part in further popularising such initiatives in the future.
The project is also unique as the cooperation between the partners from the three countries allowed for innovation in two ways. Firstly, an innovative product was created, in the way of certified water sports training programmes for the disabled. Secondly, the process of implementation itself was innovative, where as part of the project, an eLearning platform was created for sailing and wind/kite-surfing trainers, corresponding to modern trends in teaching, such as teaching personalisation, gamification, microlearning, and at the same time promoting the tourist advantages and preventing the draining of human resources as the platform will ensure unlimited access to the knowledge.
The second INTERREG project which aides with the activisation and increasing participation of disabled people in the economy is the ‘South Coast Baltic’. The project itself is a project which seeks to attract more guest boaters to the south-eastern part of the South Baltic area (Vorpommern in Germany, Zachodniopomorskie & Pomorskie in Poland, Kaliningrad region in Russia, Klaipeda region in Lithuania, Bornholm in Denmark), with the South Coast Baltic boating region encompassing an area of around 300 nautical miles from West to East, making it possible to visit it by sailing in 2-3 weeks. This makes the South Coast Baltic region a suitable and attractive destination for yacht cruising, especially as the boaters will be able to visit the coastlines of all the regions participating in the project, therefore, making this project one of the very few examples of tourism activities in the South Baltic area which has a genuine and obvious cross-border character. And one of the main objectives of the project is to increase the number of guest boaters by 20% until 2019 and to stabilise this high level of visits in the long term.
The way in which it aims to reach and help the disabled group, but also the elderly, is by offering new kinds of services and facilities, such as: easy access berth, mooring assistance, assistance hotline, family & elderly bathrooms, trolley for loading and unloading, as well as a defibrillator. All as a part of an initiative ‘easy boating for everybody’. The project partners recognised that although boating is rewarding, it is also a demanding leisure activity and there is an increasing need for support and comfort for the boaters. The German boaters make up the largest group of those travelling the South Baltic area, and due to the demographic changes, those boaters are getting older and less able, increasing the need for special services. Therefore, the idea for this initiative arose and to enable this initiative four pilot harbours are set up: Baltic Sea Resort in Kröslin, NorthEast Marina Szczecin, Marina Darłowo and Small Boat Harbour of Šilutė. Those harbours will offer different facilities and services and then on the basis of the received feedback, guidelines will be elaborated and changed, and help will be offered to other harbours in establishing similar facilities and services.
The two projects implemented as part of the INTERREG South Baltic Programme converge with the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and are part of an important step forward in helping disabled people to overcome barriers and challenges and increasing their inclusion and participation in the society. Those projects will also act as examples for future projects in how to effectively plan and implement solutions aimed at dealing with disabilities.
The author of this article is Martin Adamski, a third-year student of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom.
The Joint Secretariat hosted Martin during the month of August. He has written two articles for the quarterly magazine “W centrum” issued by the Center of European Projects. We present the first of them, which focuses on our projects aiming to help disabled people to increase their inclusion and participation in society.