On April 15, there was a video conference on the “Educational Trail” project, with participation by key players in this highly successful and important project.
Through the initiative of certain workers of Voice of Hope Radio (Radio Voce della Speranza, RVS), and with the support of ADRA Italy, the Tuscan region and the Commune of Florence, the “Educational Trail” was born and is currently being implemented. The goal is to sensitize primarily teenagers to themes of disability and diversity. The motto is “Disable prejudice”, specifically through empathy and learning to identify with others.
Everyone has a dignity that should be preserved, a dignity that goes beyond one’s physical, ethnic, and social state. It was based on this principle that the 2010 initiative, “Educational Trail”, was born. Claudio Coppini, a worker at RVS, encountered Mauro Sbrillo, a wheelchair-bound gentleman, in a hardware store. This was the beginning of their friendship and Coppini invited Sbrillo to participate in some radio broadcasts on the theme of architectural barriers in the city of Florence. These exposed numerous mobility problems for the disabled, problems that the Commune of Florence thus took responsibility for.
The “Educational Trail” then began to organize events, first in schools, then in plazas and during festivals of various themes, all under the coordination of Milca Lamuraglia, a teacher and worker at RVS in Florence. There have been numerous radio broadcasts presented by Coppini and Lamuraglia, often financed by ADRA Italy through its Country Director, Dag Pontvik, with existing collaboration by the following: Cristiano Bolli, president of District 5 of Florence, and Sarah Funaro, council member for the Board of Education and for the Welfare of the Commune of Florence – both of whom praise and support the project with great conviction.
Laura Ferraresi, a pedagogue and project collaborator, explains: “The goal for the ‘Educational Trail' is to break down physical and mental barriers surrounding disabled people. It is a psychoeducational project that is founded on empathy and the idea of learning to relate to others. Considering that prejudice is already present in the teenage years, the project is primarily implemented in schools. Students are encouraged to ‘live’ the experience of a disabled person, following a 30-meter path in a wheelchair, often also while blindfolded. Following this experience is an in-depth discussion on the theme of disability, during which everyone shares their feelings and ideas. Teachers have confirmed that their students (especially those in elementary and middle school) have acquired a new awareness and have often changed their attitude towards those who are disabled.”
Rupert Brown, professor emeritus at University of Sussex, England, explains the project’s success: “Prejudice has many causes, but also many cures. From the psychosocial perspective, all the cures come from the idea proposed by Gordon Allport in the book ‘The Nature of Prejudice’ (1954).” Brown continues: “Social contact is the key, in that it reduces ignorance, anxiety, and fear of the unknown, as it increases empathy.”
The coordination of the “Educational Trail” also included the provision of scientific data on the efficacy of the project. The Department of Education, Languages, Interculture, Literatures and Psychology – of the University of Florence – evaluated the efficacy and published the results in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (JASP). The results of the research clearly demonstrated how initiatives of “relating”, such as the “Educational Trail”, significantly change the attitudes of many people in regard to disabled persons, often eliminating prejudice. Furthermore, as specified by Professors Amanda Nerini and Camilla Matera, from the University of Florence, the initiatives scientifically demonstrate how breaking down prejudice towards a specific group almost always leads to breaking down prejudice towards other groups. This process is defined as “perspective-taking”.
Since its conception, the “Educational Trail” has been extended from Florence and the Tuscan region to various parts of Italy. Many institutions and associations are now collaborating and sustaining this very important project.
For more information on the project, go here and here (Facebook Page)
Photos: 1. Spingilavita 2. Marciapiede didattico