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Social services go digital during COVID-19

In the face of COVID-19, support and social care providers across Europe have reacted quickly, utilizing online platforms to ensure the continuity of care and support, while safeguarding the health of their staff and service users. As the sector shifts to meet the current circumstances, the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) calls on the EU and Public Authorities to recognize the role technology in the delivery of high-quality support and empower service providers to unlock its potential, with the appropriate funding and resources, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
On 22nd April EASPD brought together over 300 support service providers via their webinar series, to address the opportunities and challenges for service providers as they move to methods of online support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar showcased the latest innovative practices from support services in Israel and Italy, as well as key recommendations from the World Health Organization on digital health platforms.
 
While unable to replace the crucial “human” element of service delivery, technology has the potential to facilitate high-quality, individual support to persons with disabilities. EASPD Board member and assistive technologies expert, Evert-Jan Hoogerwerf, highlighted the opportunities of technology and online platforms, asserting that: "if used appropriately, technology can be an important "enabler", with which service providers can complement their usual service provision, to deliver high quality services that are responsive to the needs of persons with disabilities and their families."
 
Despite the crucial support services are now delivering online, many public authorities have failed to recognize service providers adaptability and have instead stopped, or refused to guarantee future funding, pushing the social sector closer to crisis point.  Speaking during the webinar, Luk Zelderloo, EASPD Secretary General, praised the capacity of the sector to innovate in response to the Coronavirus, highlighting: “the support services sector has moved quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that vital, person-centered services and therapies are still being provided to those who need it most.” He later stressed the importance of continued funding for support services during the pandemic, adding that: “these services have shown their flexibility in times of crisis, public authorities must now recognize that online services can provide effective, appropriate, support to persons with disabilities and should be funded as such.”
 
Looking to the role the EU can play in empowering service providers to promote the rights of all those living in Europe, Sabrina Ferraina, EASPD Policy Manager, asserted: “If continuity of support is to be ensured to all those who need it during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial that the social care sector is able to benefit  from the EU's Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative. For millions of support service providers across Europe, EU funding programmes are a lifeline, enabling them to provide innovative services on a daily basis. Programmes such as ESF, must also recognize and adapt to the current needs and working methods of social service providers, and guarantee the continuation of funding.”
 
The importance of enabling services providers to utilize the potential of technology is key, not just in responding to the current pandemic, but also for facilitating the development of social services so that they can reflect our rapidly digitalizing societies. Looking to the future, access to technology and digital connectivity, by both service providers and users, as well as the need to train staff in new technologies remain key challenges. As the European Commission looks to update its Skills Agenda for Europe this year, it is crucial that it recognizes the digital training needs of the sector and supports service providers to equip their workforce with the skills they need to deliver human rights based services for our digitalized societies. 
 
EASPD will continue to work with key partners, to secure the appropriate resources for support service providers for persons with disabilities, to enable them to provide high quality support to those who need it most during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
 

Background information
Note to editors

The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organization, established in 1996, and currently representing over 17,000 social and health services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.
 

For more information please contact:

Rachel Vaughan
EASPD Communications Officer
+32 2 233  77 20
Rachel.Vaughan@easpd.eu
www.easpd.eu