"Be Different" - Anti-stigma program "Accepting Diversity"

Andrija Stampar Teaching Institute of Public Health Public Health Department started implementation of Anti-stigma program "Accepting Diversity" with educational Workshop "Be Different”. Educational workshop is a part of the first module of this program. It was held for students of the 4th grade of the Elementary school „Luka“ from Sesvete and was carried out in cooperation with occupational therapy students from the University of Applied Health Sciences. The objectives of this program are to reduce stigmatization and prejudice on children with disabilities as well as people with disabilities in general and to encourage peer support to children with disabilities.

During the interactive workshops, students learned about various types of disabilities in development and disability, how to approach them, how to establish an appropriate communication and how to help (sign language, Braille letter). They also learned about occupational therapy and who are occupational therapists; which medical accessories are used by children with developmental disabilities and what are options for their adaptation in the environment (classroom, school, home).

During the second part of the educational workshop students were divided into groups and could practically apply medical accessories used by people with disabilities in carrying out their daily activities: wheelchairs, orthopaedic accessories, white stick, blindfold, customized aids for everyday activities, like toothbrush, spoon, fork), Legos and other aids.

In the end, students presented how they felt during the use of various medical accessories, what do they think of children and people who need someone else's help, with what kind of obstacles they must face every day, in which way they can help and how to be a good friend. Children with disabilities face daily challenges because of their difficulties and many obstacles that society places before them. They need to be given the opportunity like others to realize their potential in leading the life that fulfils them and contributes to the social, cultural and economic vitality of their communities. The life of children with developmental disabilities will change if attitudes change and make the wider community aware of the fact that developmental difficulties are part of the human condition.

For this very reason, the implementation of this sensitive educational workshop is a practical example of new knowledge and encourages peer support for children with developing disabilities so they can easy and painlessly integrate into day-to-day activities in their surroundings.

Ultimately, we are creating a more educated and sensible society in which children with developmental disabilities will successfully grow up as prospective, active and equal members of the community with support.

The main message of students after workshop "Be Different" was: Friendship is the most important thing! It is not enough to be friendly, you should be a true friend!

Prepared by: Marija Škes, Division of Health Promotion, Public Health Department