More choices please: Making children and youth travel more inclusive
More choices please: Making children and youth travel more inclusive
Where are you headed? There is usually a quick answer to this question when it comes to inclusive travel options for children and adolescents with disabilities. That’s because the inclusive approach hasn’t really asserted itself yet with many travel providers. To change this in the future, a team from the Technical University of Cologne (TH Köln) along with industry partners has created a strategic action plan to promote more inclusion in travel.
REHACARE.com spoke with Judith Dubiski at the TH Köln about the inclusive travel market for children and adolescents and pondered what its future might look like.
Ms. Dubiski, what is the status quo of inclusive travel options for children and adolescents?
Judith Dubiski: That’s hard to say. Nobody has a complete overview of all the available inclusive choices. If nothing else because you would first need to determine who can truly call their travel options "inclusive". Do you have to meet any quotas for this? Do you have to offer accessible accommodations? Do you have to mention the term "inclusive" in the title? And who actually determines whether the options are inclusive?
There are many supporting organizations, both from the youth work and disability support sectors, which try everything in their power to create options that are open to children and adolescents with all different kinds of wishes and needs. In some instances, these parties have already done this for many years.
Having said that, the reality is also that many children and adolescents still don’t have too many choices when it comes to the types of trips and camps they can be a part of and with whom. Many parents also don’t feel they and their child are included in these options or they simply are not aware of any offers that might actually be suitable for their situation. And sometimes it simply doesn’t seem feasible to sign a child up for a specific camp or trip – whether that’s due to financial, visitation or medical care reasons or because of fear, insecurity or whatever the reason might be. These developments still need some time.
How important are inclusive travel options for children and adolescents?
Dubiski: Traveling to a different place for a while with peers of the same age, living together and being in a different environment from the time you get up until you go to bed can open the door to new horizons for children and adolescents. Adapting your own wishes and interests to those of the group, to make joint decisions and to express your own opinions are all ongoing processes in this setting. Getting to know other participants and team members, the location, the tent as a living quarter, a rural environment, the exposure to crafts or sports equipment can teach young people that there are other and completely different ways to live, think and do things. This lets children and adolescents, who might otherwise be embedded into a very close network of assistance, education, therapy, and care discover brand-new opportunities for development.
"The action plan offers impulses for reflection and exchange – for work at local institutions and in the teams that carry out children and youth travel, but also for the discussion contexts of the 'scene' of children and youth travel," says Judith Dubiski.
In September 2017, the "Handlungskonzept zur Weiterentwicklung von inklusiven Kinder- und Jugendreisen" (English: Action Plan to Promote Inclusive Travel for Children and Young People) was published. What is its objective?
Dubiski: This strategic action plan was developed as part of a three-year project funded by the Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees and Integration of North Rhine-Westphalia (Ministerium für Kinder, Familie, Flüchtlinge und Integration NRW) and was implemented at the TH Köln in collaboration with transfer e.V. Between September 2014 and September 2017, a network of children and youth work experts and disability support specialists, community stakeholders, association and self-advocacy representatives, delegates of travel businesses and accommodation facilities was founded to discuss recent developments, identify mutual subject matters and concerns and start a shared conversation. A variety of aspects that ranged from key pedagogical terminology – such as participation – to practical concerns pertaining to the planning and organization of a trip were being discussed – both at a central network meeting and at a working committee, which formed within the network and collaborated on a smaller scale.
One result of the lively discussions during the initial network meetings was the decision to create a shared vision of inclusive children and adolescent travels and to develop shared basic standards for inclusive pedagogical children and adolescent travel. It served as the foundation to subsequently suggest a sustainable development strategy at both a structural and supporting level. Over the next months, the action plan was drawn up, discussed, supplemented and changed in several sessions by the "Austausch zwischen Behindertenhilfe und Jugendarbeit" (Communication between Disability Support and Youth Work) working committee, the TH Köln team of the Non-Formal Education research unit and the network.
What is the objective that’s being pursued here?
Dubiski: The action plan wants to contribute to the further development of travel options for all children and adolescents and simultaneously advance the field of pedagogical children and adolescent travel. It wants to be considered a working paper – in the sense that it invites further conceptual development, while it also seeks to be the foundation for individual discussion and reflection at the same time.
The overarching key objectives and action items were broken down into concrete measures, while reflective questions spark exchange and discussion. However, the measures and questions are meant to serve as examples and don’t constitute a comprehensive, conclusive list. Likewise, it is also not a "checklist" that needs to be completed to get the seal of "inclusion".
Who is the intended audience of this strategic action plan?
Dubiski: The action plan is aimed at the children and adolescent travel scene, individual supporting organizations, as well as full-time employees and volunteers. It is meant to provide a basis for a personal reflection on the subject.
Carefree togetherness: On inclusive children and youth trips, everyone involved should simply be allowed to be themselves – without certain individual needs being perceived as problematic.
In what way can the action plan also be transferred to inclusive travel options outside of the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) realm?
Dubiski: The action plan is available to all who focus on inclusive children and adolescent travel. Incidentally, "inclusive" does not just mean that children and adolescents with and without disabilities travel together – even though this was the starting point for the development. The wording is kept general to leave the door open for various groups and formats to apply the concept to match their objectives.
There is no geographic reference since the action plan is designed to encourage reflection pertaining to the preparation, design, implementation, and review of travel. Although it was developed in NRW and by stakeholders of NRW, it has been adopted on a nationwide basis since its publication. The "Vision:Inklusion" project of the International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (Fachstelle für Internationale Jugendarbeit der Bundesrepublik Deutschland), IJAB e.V. developed a strategy for the field of international youth work; both projects are in regular communication with each other: www.vision-inklusion.de.
How should inclusive children and adolescent travel options be designed in the future?
Dubiski: There is no recipe for "great" inclusive travel. We deliberately created a strategic action plan that provides more questions than answers – but without being arbitrary. If you understand inclusion to primarily be a call for continuous critical self-reflection pertaining to your own actions, existing approaches, structures, and mindsets, the most important – and most tangible – action step is careful observation, listening, and reflection. I know this may sound trite, yet from our point of view, inclusion is not about having all the answers but about the continuous motivation to change structures and create actual practical experiences.
What are your hopes for the future of inclusive children and adolescent travel?
Dubiski: I want for children and young people to have the opportunity to take part in trips and find a place where they can be seen and heard, spend their time with others and create their own space where they don’t have to meet any goals (set by others), fulfill a purpose or any demands. Regardless of how big or small, quick or slow, imaginative, distracted, unfocused, highly gifted, hearing impaired, athletic, multilingual, loud or quiet children are. And regardless of how long they or their families have lived in Germany or whether they are unsure if they should use the boys’ or girls’ restroom. Children and adolescents should be able to choose where they want to go and should not have to rely on chance or the "goodwill" of each individual travel provider – and they should not have to first earn the right to fully participate.