Accessibility at the heart of a study on experience of forced displacement and migration

Refugee groups in the areas where they have resettled in Europe are in constant danger of marginalization or exclusion due to different languages and communication strategies. One way of overcoming these barriers are new IT tools, that increase the media accessibility of refugees to foster social cohesion and mutual understanding between the refugees and their new local communities. 

The SO-CLOSE project funded by the H2020 research and innovation programme (GA 870939) aims at exactly that. To reach this goal SO-CLOSE will improve media accessibility with two approaches: the development of a research methodology and IT development. The three-year project lead by Dr Javier Rodrigo from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona started in January 2020 and focuses on the exchange of recent experiences of forced displacement and migration between refugees and their local communities. The local target communities will be the survivors of forced migrations and/or expulsions, and refugees who have recently arrived. The different languages spoken by the refugees and communication strategies adopted in their new  settlement will serve as starting point, which will lead to the definition of all potential activities and expectations and capabilities towards IT development.

SO-CLOSE will look at the commonalities of past and present experiences to review and reinterpret both historical and contemporary content. The research methodology is user-centric and based on theories of cultural heritage making.

A fundamental tool will be listening to the target group needs and expectations and create an exchange about stories, objects, songs, or any other item with an associated narrative.  

This will be followed by the development of a methodology template for co-creative design aided by digital tools and cultural products.

The resulting data and methodology will feed into the development of  several digital applications. This is where accessibility will play a leading role. The user interaction will be designed from scratch with accessibility in mind, and more specifically, taking into account the new European standard EN301549 for media content and the internet and respecting new EU directive on Web Accessibility, which covers websites and apps and outlines the specific standards required for making content more accessible in websites and mobile apps.

The technology-strong project consortium composed by CERTH, Engeneering and La Tempesta will design educational and cultural tools, such as interactive cookbooks, interactive documentaries based on immersive video recording and AI-powered chatbots. All the design applications are media based, hence the implementation of “born accessible” principles towards accessibility. This means that all media content will have accessibility files: subtitles, audio description, and sign Language interpreting. These basic accessibility services will allow for accessible translation. Other services such as Easy-to-Read will be used for subtitles and when administering ethical requirements for interaction so as to ensure the consent of the end-users taking part in the project.

All contents and tools will be displayed in either interactive exhibitions based on personal memories and storytelling, or an online platform named the Memory Center. This platform will be built as a content aggregator and will host many services. SO-CLOSE will be piloted in four different locations. They have been selected due to their relevance at present and for the actual existence of memory and intangible cultural heritage. The following venues have been chosen due to their role in gathering information on infringement on human rights took place in the last century.

  • VDA in Krakow, Poland – a center focusing on displacements after WW2.
  • The Trikeri Island Concentration Camp, Greece – where political persecution and female internment took place during the Greek Civil War.
  • MUME in La Jonquera, Spain – a place of civilian exile due to lack of refuge in France during the Spanish Civil War.
  • MONTE in Marzabotto, Italy – here violence was conducted against civilians during the Second World War and the Italian Civil War.

The Accessible Memory Center and interactive platform with its embedded repository of multimedia content and advancement services will be a global instrument. The SO-CLOSE approach will transform old-fashioned museums into Living Labs, helping to design new cultural experiences based on the cultural heritage of refugees and thus, generating social awareness. The SO-CLOSE consortium brings together a multidisciplinary team from: History, Humanities, Sociology and Political Sciences from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Lund University, as well as members of important cultural institutions: VDA, MUME, and Monte Sole. Also represented in the consortium will be the target group of current refugees in Europe, the Greek Forum of Refugees (GFR), which will serve as a means to incorporate the contiguous organization to which the GFR belongs and leads – RISE (Refugee Ideas and Solutions for Europe), bringing together 15 refugee associations in different European countries. SO-CLOSE will improve social cohesion and promote mutual understanding between refugees and their local communities.

By Pilar Orero, UAB, pilar.orero (at) uab.cat

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