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European Innovative Teaching Award
Project

The Ability Advisor: Improving the Tourism for All Market by VET

School: Panevezio Darbo Rinkos Mokymo Centras

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Topic(s) addressed

The project’s TAD topic was tourism for all and accessible tourism, with innovation revealed by a number of important aspects. Integrated training methodology stimulated the combination of knowledge and skills from different subjects, while empowering the VET sector to impact students’ attitudes to accessibility and transfer from a single company to the tourism sector. The project’s innovative aspect lies in its approach, which is the development of innovative solutions for VET trainers and SMEs. The project proposed an interdisciplinary approach to the topic by drawing inspiration from the methodology of integrated teaching and learning, and the development of learning methodology for VET teachers, trainers, and mentors in the interest of exploiting digital technologies from a holistic point of view. Thus, the educational sector could contribute to the mainstream principles of accessible tourism while helping professionals in the tourism sector to improve their way of working and to benefit from it. To this end, the project’s main objectives were to design, implement, promote, and test (using a transversal focus) professional profiles that match the training offer and market needs of an Ability Advisor that supports SMEs to successfully increase tourism for all markets; generate new job opportunities for trained people; tackle the topic through a cross-sectoral approach that matched the needs of VET providers, VET learners, and SMEs; and, develop a cross-sectoral partnership to the topic from a European perspective while contributing to a new attitude of inclusiveness.

Target groups

The project’s aim was strictly related to the needs of the identified target group and those of key stakeholders, which included VET providers, SMEs in the tourism field, public bodies in the fields of education, the labour market, and social policies. A total of 1072 individuals had actively participated in the project’s activities, and they consisted of people who attended the course (VET learners or graduates aged 20-35, who are currently unemployed or underemployed; graduates from specific university courses or high school graduates with specialised diplomas (including post-school diplomas); and/or people with previous experience in the field of tourism services), with 30 individuals earmarked for pilot training; due to the interest expressed by participants, it was decided that the number of participants be increased. Furthermore, 43 individuals participated in pilot trainings in Lithuania, Italy, and Portugal, consisting of 100 VET providers who participated in the survey; 206 individuals from SMEs involved who were involved in the survey on accommodation, catering, sports and leisure, transport, agro-tourism, travel agencies, camps, and other services; 30 representatives from SMEs’ who participated in the WBL course phase; 6 individuals who participated in the implementation of the e-Learning platform; 6 individuals representing associations operating in the field and trainers with specific skills; 27 individuals who participated in the evaluation phase including VET providers (trainers and managers), SMEs, public entities, and association dealing with disabilities and specific needs; 270 individuals who participated  in the promotion and sharing of final events (multiplier events) consisting of VET providers, VET trainers and learners, representatives of micro, small and medium enterprises, public entities, associations dealing with disability and specific needs, tourism agencies, and governmental institutions; and, 390 individuals who participated in the promotion and sharing of final events (small events) made up of VET providers, SMEs, public bodies, and various associations.

Methodologies

The innovative nature of the project is closely connected to its methodology, with TAD having employed a multi-disciplinary approach to the teaching of accessible tourism, including elements of management studies, economics, social sciences, architecture and design, hospitality, and catering. The project’s intellectual outputs gave concrete opportunities for the study of same content from different perspectives, with the project having faced different topics and issues, such as the European legal framework and policies on accessibility; communication methods; business and so on. Moreover, the partnership decided to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to the topic, with the project responding to the needs of VET learners by allowing them to acquire, strengthen, and develop crucial key competencies such as literacy competence (explored in the light of accessible information and communication); digital competence (the study of the e-Learning course); personal, social, and learning competences that were gained during assigned tasks and the individual study of additional resources and tutored practice; and, entrepreneurship competence, which is related to the role of the Ability Advisor in the enterprise/tourism sector, whereby, following completion of the course, the learner can begin self-employed activity as an external consultant or be employed as an internal service provider to carry out accessibility assessments, inspections, and, consultations and audits, while informing SMEs managers of how accessibility may be integrated into their businesses. Also, the “A Tour Around” research supported Ability Advisors in their new roles within enterprises that provide tourism services. The TAD learning programme can work independently as a non-formal programme for the Ability Advisor’s profile, with learning materials simultaneous used as an integral part of tourism services relating to VET training that can be integrated into different learning subjects for various formal, non-formal, and informal learning programmes. Furthermore, inclusion, active participation, and cooperation were keywords of the TAD project, which established its innovative nature. The project’s main topic was directly related to the social inclusion of people with special needs, with project deliverables focused on strategies to mainstream disability awareness, the principles of effective customer service, the ‘Design For All’ principle, legal requirements, information and marketing, and best practices in the field. All materials were designed with particular attention to principles of accessibility, with the partnership’s general approach used in the activities of the entire project (i.e. a "plain language approach") towards defining precise, clear, concise, and well-organised information and communication that is easily understandable by the audience. Communication was based on the use of logical organisation with the reader in mind, with entry tests conducted in order to collect participants’ needs and their specific access requirements. With regard to multiplier events, a subscription form was developed during the preparation phase in order to collect participants’ access requirements, and each event was planned to be accessible so as to prevent potential difficulties and barriers. Thanks to the partnership’s heterogeneity, the project, as a whole, and its results, represented an asset for each partner, with the balanced team allowing for the partnership to look at the same issue from multiple points of view in order to achieve the project’s objectives, overcome problems, source solutions, and respond to identified needs. The project’s multidisciplinary and multilevel approach represented a great added value for the entire partnership, as all participating organisations were able to share their own experience and expertise, networks, and their specific know-how (on project management, accessible tourism, VET system, educational methodologies, communication and dissemination, etc.), best practices, ways of working, and general expertise. Each partner also had a unique level of access to each country’s direct and indirect target groups, which made sharing and the development of the project’s outputs easier to test and validate. The project’s website was designed to conform with Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG), ensuring that it was accessible to all users. The project’s outputs were released as an Open Educational Resource, an innovative learning tool that can be used for online courses and e-Learning purposes. Taking into account the project’s multidisciplinary and multilevel approach as well as its collaborative working methodology, the project’s deliverables were designed and implemented for use both in an independent manner and within formal, non-formal, and informal educational environments. The TAD e-Learning course proved to be highly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, given that teaching and learning activities have moved online in place of physical classroom teaching. The TAD learning programme is distributed by the UN World Tourism Organisation’s Online Academy and across partners’ websites. Learners’ active role was crucial within the learning process, with learners involved in discussions and the implementation of self-evaluation quizzes. In the testing phase, a famous travel blogger (Giulia Lamarca), and several tourism agents were invited, and asked to share, explain, and interact with learners during discussions to introduce students to the perspectives of tourists with special needs, which resulted in a touching contribution that helped participants better understand the needs of such tourists. Also, the TAD project promoted work-based learning, with learners of pilot training sessions having capitalised on the initiative’s educational materials during a local exercise where they visited and ‘measured’ touristic venues. This enabled learners to have real work-based learning experience in welcoming people with specific access requirements. Tours were organised with participants, and one participant went on a holiday to Mexico in order to contribute to the trip’s accessibility aspects.  

Environments

The project adopted a whole school approach, with partners and stakeholders using project deliverables and outputs within their institutional activities, with intellectual outputs included in the stable offer as an asset to institutional activities. Content on learning programmes was allocated through different modules, and served as an open training source for integration into various VET programme subjects according to the topic, such as accessibility, tourism, entrepreneurship, customer care, client service, economic, management, and so forth. The project was particularly innovative because it involved the design of an "unusual" cross-sectorial cooperation network that was composed of organisations with different missions, targets, and vocations. This network blended 3 VET providers; an EU-wide and international accessible tourism non-profit association; and, an SME operating in the fields of social communication and education. In this regard, the project was both innovative and complementary as opposed to the work that had already been implemented by partners, as it was the first time that partners had cooperatively addressed the topic through a combination of different experiences, backgrounds and cross-sectoral partnership. The project promoted digital/blended learning, with the course structured in a way that enabled VET providers to propose the training exercise using modes that suited their needs and those of their target audience, comprising traditional, traditional plus work-based learning, blended learning, blended plus work-based learning, online learning (where learners were able to attend the course individually), and online plus work-based learning. The project itself is an expression of partners’ missions and their willingness to act as enablers of innovation towards promoting new digital learning tools that contributed to an increase in the labour market’s focus on VET, with a special emphasis on people with disabilities. The project’s activities were integrated through constant collaboration with regional and national partner organisations that work with the rehabilitation of disabled individuals, so as to develop qualified comprehensive services for people with disabilities. Project partners capitalised on the project’s intellectual outputs throughout their daily activities, and promoted it among their network of stakeholders, including VET providers and decision-makers at the local, regional, and national level.

Teachers

Both VET teachers and staff influenced the innovative teaching and learning processes, with VET providers acting as innovators in the training sector by fostering new approaches, and introducing crucial topics to education and the economy. New and innovative materials produced through the combination of accessible knowledge and digital transformation improved the training portfolio that was used to create new and interesting training sessions for different targets. Simultaneously, the TAD project’s results aimed at fostering at e-Learning and the integration of accessibility learning into training courses towards facilitating accessible tourism and other services. The project substantially improved the quality of vocational education by offering innovative learning opportunities that were closely linked to accessibility, digitalisation, and social inclusion, and by providing an opportunity for the development of skills and professional competence of VET educators. The use of TAD materials also ensured that they were equipped with the resources needed to develop VET learners’ knowledge and skills in this field. The project’s material were prepared, tested, and disseminated in close collaboration with teachers and other interested institutions, including the Association of People with Disabilities of Panevėžys City, Panevėžys Business Advisory Center, Panevėžys Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Crafts, Turismo Torino (the official local tourism board), CPD – Consulta per le persona in Difficoltà (an umbrella organisation of associations for people experiencing difficulties), AIC Associazione Italiana Celiachia (an association for celiac sufferers), City Friends (a company involved in tourism for disabled people), the national tourism boards VisitFlanders and VisitBrussels, and the University of Minho. This collaboration was very fruitful and helped in the gathering of many practical examples and real-life situations that allowed participants to better understand problems in this sector.

Impact

The project produced a powerful tool that connects both the training and business sectors, with VET providers being able to transfer their training to the online platform in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project contributed to the formation of a new attitude towards inclusiveness among partners’ and stakeholders’ organisations, given that the partnership functioned on the mainstreaming of the "what is essential for some is useful for all" principle. The programme was developed and presented to partners and stakeholders in accordance with its main framework, which underlined the powerful impact of community-wide cooperation in creating convenient and acceptable access to services for all. TAD project participants gained knowledge on local, regional, national, and European frameworks regarding accessible tourism; experience and developed specific skills on measuring the accessibility of tourist environments and services, and planned specific improvements with regard to accessibility. Furthermore, they improved their awareness on the project’s topic; their attitude towards accessible tourism market; and the opportunity accessible tourism can offer to a company's visibility and business, while gaining skills, competences, and knowledge regarding the accessible tourism framework – in addition to an understanding of how accessibility may be integrated into existing businesses. As a result, 3 participants began working in associations involved in the course, with 2 other participants having begun working in the field of tourism. Project partners continued working towards new initiatives linked to inclusiveness and innovative digital learning tools, with the TAD material having been promoted at the university and VET level. Also, partners began working with an informal group of institutions that are interested in Accessible Tourism. ENGIM received funding for a project on tourism and autism ("AutDoor"), which, beginning with the TAD experience, seeks to develop an autism-friendly network of business and companies within the field of tourism, with a new course being developed for companies and tourism operators. The course "Tourism for All: Welcome Techniques" was approved by the local authority of vocational training in Piedmont, and is now included in the official courses’ catalogue for the lifelong learning of the adults who are already working. The European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) is currently engaged as a partner in three ERASMUS+ VET projects in which TAD training resources are being used to further develop training content for tourism professionals, SME managers, students of hospitality and catering and university-level students (undergraduates and masters). These projects consist of ACCESS-IT  “Innovation for Accessible Tourism in Natural and Rural Areas”; GAMES WITHOUT BARRIERS “Accessible Tourism for Initial VET Learners, through Experimental, Innovative, Game-based Approaches and Digital Tools”; and, IN-TOUR “INclusive TOURism Professions, European Curricula for Accessible Tourism Manager and Frontline Staff.” Furthermore, Panevėžys Labour Market Training Center, Bluebook, and Associacao universidade empresa para desenvolvimento Tecminho are currently implementing the project “ATENA - Access To EducatioN for All” that focuses on social inclusion and which references the principles promoted by the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education. Partners are also working on concrete strategies and methods for the application of the principles of information and accessible training. Moreover, project partners are also working and promoting new innovative digital learning tools, consisting of the following projects: CIRCular Economy through Integrated e-Learning in VET: CIRCLE“ - the creation of online digital learning tools to be integrated into different subject learning on the Circular Economy (Panevėžys Labour Market Training Center and Bluebook); “Connecting ICT Solutions with Circular Food to Lay a Path for Sustainability” - the creation of innovative digital tools for the integration of food waste management into VET programmes with a focus on the Circular Economy (Panevėžys Labour Market Training Center); and, “Development of Hybrid Training in VET,” which focuses on hybrid training (Panevėžys Labour Market Training Center). Project partners continue to maintain the established network by cooperating in new initiatives and the development of projects that focus on inclusiveness, innovation, and digital learning tools.

Stakeholders

Participants

TecMinho - Associação Universidade-Empresa para o Desenvolvimento

Address
Portugal

Bluebook s.r.l.

Address
Italy

ENGIM Piemonte Associazione

Address
Italy

European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) asbl

Address
Belgium