It was a great idea for the younger people of our community to train the elderly people, and meanwhile the elderly have also shared their culture with the youngsters. It was interesting to see that even during the activities such as the digital workshops, they were talking about a range of different topics from history to personal stuff. As an organisation, we see that it is worthwhile having many activities for deaf people with facilitators who are deaf themselves. People appreciate that. I also think that giving more autonomy to young people empowers them. When they come to us, project managers, with an idea, we should encourage them. Even if the idea is weak, we need to explain them how they can improve and make it happen.
Imagine being in a place where nobody knows your language. Deaf elderly people often feel like this in everyday situations. To tackle this, six deaf Italian millennials started to teach their deaf elders digital and communication skills. This project opened up new perspectives and made information more accessible to their community.
If you want to work on a topic, you need to involve others, codesign and lead the activities together. Real participation means involving the members of the community.
To learn more about this Local Solidarity Project, we interviewed two young deaf Italians, Gianluca Grioli and Nicola Della Maggiora, who are members of the working group. From the supporting organisation Ergon a favore dei Sordi, Andre Ebouaney, project manager, also shared his thoughts with us.
Special thanks to Simona Biani for the Italian Sign Language translation.
What background are you coming from?
We both work at the Turin Institute for the Deaf, a non-profit foundation working to advance the training and social inclusion of deaf people. Gianluca works mostly on matters connected to media and television, Nicola as a computer technician. We sign, teach, interpret, and translate to and from Italian Sign Language (LIS). With the institute, our objective is to raise awareness about the most important issues for both young and old deaf people on a national, European, and international level.
How was the Solidarity Project’s idea born?
Ergon a favore dei Sordi, hereafter Ergon, is an association in northern Italy, Piedmont region, empowering young D/deaf (Deaf, hard of hearing, deafened and DeafBlind) citizens. It works to foster their personal and professional development, advancing their rights and opportunities. The project was ideated by a group of young deaf people, mentored by Ergon. Working on topics such as finding a job, writing a CV and motivational letter, preparing for work interviews, doing active citizenship, etc. We held a brainstorming session about what we could do for our communities. The group noticed that elderly deaf people (at the Turin Institute for the Deaf, at residential homes such as the Casa dei Decibel, but also our parents and grandparents) often ask for help to check bank accounts, write an email or simply use a smartphone. They do not really have a place for well-structured, daily activities through which they could learn these skills. Analysing the problem, we decided we could do something about it!
Was the European project format new for you?
Some of the participants had done European projects before, so they had heard about the European Solidarity Corps Programme that can finance local youth initiatives. But we read the rules of the programme, and figured out the activities and the best ways of working with seniors all together. Ergon supported us with coaching (mainly in logistics), providing a venue for the activities, and advising on the budget. But we took the lead, and did everything on our own. For example, at the beginning of the project we prepared a questionnaire with LIS translation videos. We shared it with old people (60+) to identify their needs. We asked about what kinds of activities they were already doing, what interests they had and what topics they would be happy to learn about.
Which activities did you organise based on this research?
We created a so-called “Senior Academy” where we organised 2-hour training sessions three times per week. Each session aimed at teaching digital and ICT competencies to deaf elderly people. They learnt how to navigate the internet, search for information, manage their finances, communicate online etc. We also organised small trips, such as museum visits with volunteers. Aside from this, the dissemination of project results, through creating a Facebook page and posting photos and videos, was going on all the time. Also, we were continually checking with our coach and elderly participants if the way we were proceeding was correct. We started the implementation in August 2019, but due to COVID-19, instead of a 12-month-long project run, we had to extend the end date to November 2020.
What kinds of difficulties did you face?
Most of the seniors did not have computers at home, so they could not continue working online after the training. Also, during the lockdowns we had to put the training activities on hold. During that period, we focused on simply keeping in touch. We chatted and held video calls on WhatsApp. We also went to the supermarket, bought what they needed, and brought it to them. Another difficulty was that not many people aged 50+ use social media. In the end, we introduced sites and apps to them that could be useful and popular for their age groups. For example, teaching them to use Telegram was a challenge and an objective. This app provides access to many sources of information in a very simple way. It is handy because notifications about news arrive directly to the phone. Clearly, an objective for our entire community is having a TV channel dedicated to deaf people with instant access to news. We are working on a project at the Turin Institute for the Deaf every week, sharing news videos using sign language, but there is still a long way to go.
How did you select the central topics for the training sessions?
There are many things we could have focused on, but in the end we chose accessibility. Accessibility to what? To everything! For example, deaf seniors have no idea that they should be provided information in their language. The Netherlands, instead, have excellent services for deaf seniors where they are provided all information about any questions they may have, using sign language. In Italy, we have over 100 laws that are not implemented in all provinces and regions, so accessibility is still an unresolved issue. Just think about the gap between the deaf and hearing communities! Before the 1970-80s, most deaf people did not have the possibility to attend bilingual schools. Today, we, young people, are able to do so. We are also able to work with computers, which opens up new channels of infinite information. However, for our elderly people even small things, like changing the size or the type of the font or making a drawing in Paint, was an important learning.
Can you bring a few more examples of the things you taught them?
We helped deaf seniors understand that new professions have been born over the years, such as deaf interpreters. Plus, they have the right to choose what kind of interpreter they want at their side. It has been essential to make them realise what rights they have, such as the right to be informed about their rights through their own language. We want to highlight that being deaf does not necessarily mean understanding LIS. Some deaf people use the bimodal method (a sign language plus a spoken language), while others only use spoken language. Despite the differences, accessibility to information must be provided for all these people.
What was the strength of your project?
Engaging the old and the young together, sharing our skills. Another aspect was that our activities were entirely deaf-led! Usually, organisations provide services for deaf by not deaf people. For our target, it was easier to understand concepts explained by us, deaf youth, as we could put ourselves in their shoes. When talking about deaf people, we need to understand that some are deaf at birth, while others become deaf in old age. Some of them can also have other pathologies, such as autism, cognitive impairment and other disabilities. As some deaf people have not been able to attend school, they can face difficulties in basic understanding even today. And involving interpreters does not guarantee that the message gets through 100 per cent —sometimes a cultural mediator is needed too.
What kinds of methods did you use in the activities?
Infographics and illustrations were super useful. As was our experience in teaching. For example, I (Nicola) had previously been helping deaf elderly people — joining them in the local community space where they come together to play cards. I love theatre, and I studied Informatics at university, so it was natural for me to teach them my passions! Also, our first language is the LIS, which is a superpower when training other deaf people.
What did you learn?
In addition to being able to teach tricks to get along in the digital era, we have built bridges between our generations. We loved this intergenerational exchange of stories and signs! Signs have evolved over the recent decades. For example, the old sign for a computer indicated something big, but today there is a new sign, as electric devices can now be as small as a tablet or phone. Also, we were not aware that some of the elderly went to segregated schools. It was wonderful discovering our community’s history. Plus, we exchanged knowledge within our team, and learnt a lot about collaboration.
What happened to these elderly people after the project?
Our group is trying to find new ways of working with them. We thought the group could provide similar activities once per week. One of the biggest follow-ups has been that we built a Key Action 2 project, DESEAL (Deaf Senior Education for Active Living), with partners from Austria, France and Belgium. This project promotes equality, non-discrimination and diversity for older deaf people. It provides them training materials and enables them to access information and acquire digital skills that are especially useful in the fields of finance, banking and social security. When we designed this application, we built on our experiences from the Solidarity Project.
Do you have a suggestion for other people who want to create their own projects?
First, when you have an idea, you need competent people at your side. In our case, we had experts in working with deaf people. Then you need people who are involved in the community that you want to work with. In our project, it was us, because we know first-hand what it means to be deaf. But this was not enough, we also needed to study the community and research the context.
But how to motivate youth?
Tell them to volunteer at an association. There, you can understand how to identify a project’s goals, a group’s needs and the steps you go through. That way, you learn how to develop your own project! We are young people too, but we started even younger, as volunteers. And every young person can do that, either through European Solidarity Corps or national volunteering projects that are available. We hope that in the future more and more deaf people will do this.
Do you have a message to highlight?
Nicola’s grandfather used to say, the past teaches us. True, it is wonderful, but it’s not enough! We need to pass on our learnings, and they are valid not only for deaf people but for the entire world. Also, many people look at deaf people saying, “We are sorry, you can’t do this or that.” But, there is only one thing deaf people can’t do: hear. All the rest is in our power. We can do it.
Andre Ebouaneyproject manager from Ergon
Deaf-to-deaf: passing on knowledge between different generations from the same community! Deaf youth took the lead to help elderly deaf people access information through modern tools. Meanwhile, the young people themselves discovered more about the community’s history.
About the project
European Solidarity Corps / Solidarity Projects
EU Youth Programme Priority:
Inclusion and Diversity
Youth Participation / Skills Development and Volunteering
Young participants created a Facebook page and an Instagram account. Their colourful photos and videos give us an insight into their teaching activities. A report on Academia.edu summarises their best practices.