Digital Inclusion as we #HearIT

When we came up with the project of DigInclude (Developing Digital Skills in Disadvantaged Groups), we had in mind a lot of tangible goals and desired outcomes. While we’re implementing more and more activities to achieve the goals, suddenly we realised that we’re going even further than we ever could have imagined. Shining eyes, sparkling motivation, constant inspiration, dedication to give and create, 120% involvement and a genuinely beautiful co-creation within deaf and hearing are one of the non-tangible yet most valuable outcomes we’re thrilled to see and experience! Our reports will talk about numbers, activities and so on. This article has a different purpose: let it talk about what we experience and why we love doing this project.

This cooperation teaches us about inclusion

Inclusion. Such a nice word we all believe to know the meaning of. Digital inclusion, is an extra tweak on it, considering the nature of our age. The EU calls digital inclusion an “effort to ensure that everybody can contribute to and benefit from the digital world”. Why is this a thing at all? We live in the digital era where most of our life is online. With the global pandemic we are facing, this is truer than ever before. Let’s think about our work, studies, social interactions, even hobbies sometimes. While using technology gives many of us brilliant advantages and benefits, those who have no access to internet or cannot access online spaces barrier-free automatically get into a position of disadvantage. Imagine people with no access to internet. Imagine people of disadvantaged groups with lack of digital literacy. Imagine great minds with physical disabilities: blind, deaf, handicapped and so on. The truth is that we don’t have information available and accessible equally for everyone. We still don’t have spaces that promote barrier-free accessibility. We still don’t design safe digital spaces to support the human needs of disadvantaged groups. Luckily, we can see great examples, leaders who are seriously working on digital inclusion. Inclusive design, humane technology, projects like DigInclude are some of the initiatives that are fighting for digital equality, equity and inclusion.

But here’s the thing we’re re-learning: it really starts with us, tiny humans and our everyday communication.

When we started to work on this project, together with a group of wonderful, young deaf people, the most important asset we needed was empathy and empathetic listening. We needed to go there to understand how they feel, what their struggles are, what holds them back, what limiting beliefs they have – just like anyone else. With openness and honest curiosity we understood more and more.

We understood that written communication is far from the best way, despite how we had assumed before.

We understood that with a little attention we can have highly effective online meetings. We needed to learn that just like the drink-or-drive principle, we need the talk-or-write rule on a video call (to let non-hearing people see what we say).

We understood that hearing and non-hearing is not black and white and there are significant differences in how each non-hearing person can and want to communicate, just like we have different abilities and preferences in the hearing community.

Yes, we do promote barrier-free digital web design, user-need based coding and inclusive digital spaces and activities, but first and more important we need to be open to listen and empathise.

This cooperation teaches us about struggles

Before this project we had great assumptions of the struggles of deaf communities. While many turned out to be valid and true, there is a great finding we haven’t thought of. That’s one thing we create an inclusive space and digital community, that is technically open for everyone, but we do need to make sure that people of marginalised or disadvantaged groups really feel they have a place and a community to belong to. We believe that this is routing in these people’s self-esteem, self-worth, self-compassion. To really create equity, we need to bring people of marginalised groups to a position of equality by focusing also on their emotional development. We need to do that so that they are ready to really grow professionally as well.

This cooperation makes us laugh with joy

Within this project team we found it important that besides being productive, working on fruitful projects and communicating regularly, we support our own mental health by taking breaks, taking tasks according to one’s learning needs or truly connecting with each other. One could find joy when seeing us from outside during a project meetings: shining eyes, constant brainstorming, sharp plans and lot of stories and jokes! You know when a team is really a team, formed of people of different age, different abilities, different background, when you can freely, bravely laugh at each others’ or your own mistakes together! It’s beautiful.

This cooperation gives us friendship

This cooperation was already formed based on a friendship that recognised the power of utilising two organisations’ diverse strengths to build something great together. It’s beautiful to experience that during this process of true listening, understanding and caring more people got involved in this friendship: deaf and hearing have found a common ground, a common goal and the willingness to work together in a way real friends do. With honestly, trust, openness and support, in and beyond work.

DigInclude is a project that aims to support young disadvantaged individuals to improve their digital skills, literacy and wellness in order to support their employment success in a digital world. DigInclude is also a project that realises the crucial importance of small human gestures, deep listening and empathy. Because there is no inclusion without willingness to understand each other.

We’re grateful to have been given the opportunity to implement this project that is co-funded by the European Union.

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