Key Objective #1: Exchange of Information and Experiences
All stuttering associations deal with the same subject, and their aims and objectives are more or less similar. There are, however, differences in the way the national associations work and which areas of self-help work they focus on. For example, some organizations put much emphasis on stuttering in children, others may mainly serve adult stutterers. Learning about the situation in other countries and being introduced to "the way they do it" can be a most beneficial and stimulating experience with a directly helpful impact on the associations' daily work.
ELSA promotes the exchange of information in several ways:
- A newsletter ('Voice of ELSA') is published twice a year, providing news and background articles about recent developments in European countries. Additionally, the ELSA newsletter provides a platform for personal exchange, eg. by publishing letters or requests for pen friendships.
- The associations' attitudes towards self-help and their general policies have been collected and compiled in two comprehensive surveys detailed descriptions of their work Methods and Concepts of Stuttering Self-Help, 1993; & Stuttering and Employment, 1994 (see Publications section for details.)
- A library collection of material produced and published by the member associations (newsletters, brochures, books, videos etc.) is kept at the ELSA office in Köln serving as a basis for a planned database on stuttering and self-help.
The most powerful tools in ELSA's exchange work are the European seminars which bring together Board members of the national stuttering organizations and other interested delegates and professionals working in the field. Each seminar is devoted to a particular topic; recent ones have been entitled Self-help for Parents of Children Who Stutter ; Stuttering and Employment ; Helping Stuttering Pupils and Stuttering Awareness . ELSA seminars are part funded by the Commission of the European Union.
Another important aspect of exchange is the personal encounter of people who stutter from different countries. As a matter of fact, this is what makes international cooperation become a concrete, enjoyable and inspiring experience.
European seminars are an opportunity for people to meet, however, at this time ELSA cannot organize meetings with a large number of participants due to financial constraints, the member associations are therefore encouraged to open their national meetings/annual conferences for fellow-stutterers from abroad.
Key Objective #2: Representation of Interests
Representation of the interests of people who stutter in Europe and their respective national associations takes place at two different levels. At the political level, today's Europe is marked by growing unification and cooperation. Virtually all European countries are members of the European Council. Even more important is the European Union (EU) now with 15 member states and a number of countries applying for membership. Although the EU still focuses mainly on economical aspects, the social side is becoming more and more important and it is only a question of time when standardizations in the social field will have an impact on the legislation in the member states.
ELSA has successfully introduced itself to both political bodies mentioned, thus putting the issue of stuttering on the European agenda: The European Youth Foundation, an agency affiliated to the European Council, subsidised youth seminars in 1995 at Linköping, Sweden, 1997 at Nijmegen, Netherlands and 2000 at Mullsjö, Sweden. As for the EU, ELSA, since 1990 has participated in the HELIOS programme of funding for disabled people initiated by the European Commission which aims at promoting the social integration of people with disabilities. Through HELIOS, ELSA received funds for holding European seminars and meetings. The Helios programme terminated in 1996 and new funding programmes have been developed since. Beyond the aspect of financial support the former HELIOS and the new programmes are a stepping-stone for non-governmental disability organizations to gain more influence on European policies.
ELSA is a founder member of the European Disability Forum (EDF), an umbrella association of European NGOs. All Non-Governmental Organisations are allocated a particular Sector. ELSA's Sector is the Hearing and Speech Sector coordinated by the European Union of the Deaf (EUD).
The second level of advocacy refers to the speech and language profession. Like many professions, speech therapists have formed their own international organizations. The CPLOL is a top organization of European national speech and language associations. ELSA has cooperated with the CPLOL in the context of the HELIOS programme.
Furthermore, ELSA maintains close links with the Support Group/Consumer Affairs Committee of the International Fluency Association (IFA) which is a world-wide organization for researchers, clinicians and people who stutter.
ELSA with the IFA Support Group Committee jointly contributed to the 1st IFA Congress in 1994 by organizing a panel discussion on the relationship between professionals and self-help groups. ELSA also gave a presentation at the 2000 IFA congress in Denmark.
ELSA is a founding member of the International Stuttering Association (ISA), a similar umbrella association to ELSA but representing Stuttering associations from all over the world.
Key Objective #3: Promoting the Idea of Self-Help in European Countries
In promoting self-help ELSA seeks contact in various ways with people who stutter (through newspaper ads, self-help centres etc.), provides them with information and encourages them to get in touch with fellow stutterers.
Another target group is the professional community of speech-language therapists. Although the involvement of professionals in stuttering groups is controversial it is a matter of fact that many groups and associations have been initiated or established by therapists who have access to the people concerned and are able to recognise the importance of self-help activities. This is why addressing professionals at meetings, conferences and other events plays a major role when it comes to promotion.
An important part of ELSA's work is supporting new associations. Small subsidies are being offered to help publishing information material such as leaflets and brochures. Also, much of the work in this field consists of stimulating and co-ordinating activities carried out by national member associations. ELSA encourages them to enter into partnership with other countries. For example, Scandinavian groups help developing self-help structures in the Baltic states and Poland organized Slavic Meetings, inviting people who stutter from neighbouring countries.
Thus the abstract idea of international co-operation can be put into practice in a direct and personal way.