23. Apr. 2007

A European consortium of 13 partners is researching and developing technologies to make lifelong learning and higher education accessible to everyone, without exception. The big advantage is that this will finally allow disabled and older people who would like to participate in studies but currently feel unable to. And this will allow millions of citizens to obtain key competences and the necessary skills to enter the European workforce.

Although technology is already available to support learning there are still enormous barriers for students a professionals with special needs to access it. This is true at all stages required to realise one’s learning goals, from enrolment to assessment.

Therefore, if the benefits of technology in lifelong learning are to be extended to disabled and older learners then the technology must be implemented in a way that it is completely usable by them. For example, if technology is inappropriately introduced, or is introduced with insufficient support, disabled and older people face further exclusion from the interlinked worlds of education and work.

A four year project, entitled EU4ALL (European Unified Approach for Accessible Lifelong Learning) has just started to investigate these issues. The project is being partly funded by the European Commission and the total funding is 10.5 Million Euro with 7.4 Million Euro being provided by the Commission.

EU4ALL includes the relevant stakeholders in the chain of services in the Higher Education sector, involving various organisations of disabled people, the two largest educational institutions in Europe, both of which have thousands of disabled and older students and industry. The project will provide the opportunity to hundreds of disabled and older students to access adapted content as well as learning guidance and support. For example, based on his profile and specific capabilities, a blind student in computer science will be provided with an oral description of an electronic circuit diagram (usually provided only as a picture). A student with difficulties to concentrate will benefit of particular pedagogical support, proposing alternative learning strategies, such as working in pairs or using lectures transcriptions, to reduce anxiety problems.

The EU4ALL Project will:
· Conduct extensive consultation with disabled and older learners, throughout Europe and beyond, about their current problems and needs;
· Conduct extensive consultation with staff at universities who teach and support disabled and older learners, to understand the problems they face and how they can be better supported;
· investigate the different services that are currently offered to learners, from enrolment to examination;
· Develop seamless technological support, as well as guidance mediated by technology, in order to support disabled and older learners;
· Provide examples of content adapted to the needs of particular disabled and older learners, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the services.

The ultimate goal of EU4ALL is to influence the way universities and other educational institutions across Europe and beyond deliver lifelong learning services to the whole population. Therefore, the project will not only deliver technical results but will also bring together and provide support to communities of practices, from both the providers of distance education or e-learning and the learner sides.

‘The EU4ALL project is an ambitious one that seeks to make a widespread impact on the delivery of life-long-learning, this is why the technical focus is on open, flexible and based on standards architecture and the human focus is on adaptivity and accessibility’ said Jesús Boticario, Vice-Rector of the Spanish Distance Training University (UNED), and Scientific Coordinator of the project.

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Additional Information:
The prime contractor of the EU4ALL project is Atos Origin Spain. The other partners are the The National University for Distance Education (UNED) and Soluziona in Spain, The Open University, the University of York and Tribal Education in the United Kingdom, Fraunhofer Institute of Technology in Germany, e-Isotis in Greece, the Centre for Social Innovation in Austria, Giunti Labs, the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ and Disabled Peoples’ International in Italy and the European Association for Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) based in the Netherlands.