EPR Annual Conference 2021 – Digital Transformation – Learning from COVID-19, looking to the future

Online 30th September - 1st October, 2021

EPR held its Annual Conference in 2021 with the theme “Digital Transformation – Learning from COVID-19, looking to the future”. It was a 1.5-day event, starting on Thursday, 30 September at 10.00 CEST and ending on Friday, 1 October at lunchtime at 13.00 CEST. The event was co-organised with Fundación ONCE.

The relevance of digital transformation and how to best manage the related opportunities and challenges and implement them on the ground in rehabilitation and disability services has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference provided insights into learning from the past year, trends, innovations, and best practices in digital developments and tools, assisting organisations in their digital transformation.

Please have a look at the programme structure and the speakers (in English, French, German and Spanish). At the bottom of this page you also find there a file with summary information on the 5 projects presented on day 2 of the conference, followed by the possibility for the participants to learn more about them and to exchange with the presenters in break-out rooms.

Opening session

After an opening and welcome/icebreaker, the conference kicked off with a keynote speech on “Digital is a people business”; a leadership perspective learning from the pandemic, from Liora Gross, from the Center for Creative Leadership in South Africa.

The second keynote speech is on “Technical developments shaping the digitalisation of learning, teaching and training: Opportunities and challenges for social services providers. The speaker, Prof. Dr. Andreas Schleicher, Director at the Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD focused on trends and technical developments shaping the digitalisation of the fields of learning, teaching and training. He looked into the related opportunities and challenges for social service providers, addressing two questions: How can they be well prepared to manage and co-design this digital transformation for and with their users, workers and organisations?; Which lessons can be learnt from the last nearly 1.5 years with the COVID-19 pandemic?

After a comfort break there was time for ONCE to speak about their latest digital developments in the field of rehabilitation and disability services, for discussion groups (in breakout rooms) on the inputs of the morning and a feedback from them to the plenary.


In the afternoon, three interactive workshops were held in parallel. With a length of 70 minutes each they were organised twice, the first round from 14.30 to 15.40 CEST, the second after a 10 minutes comfort break from 15.50 to 17.00 CEST. 

Workshop 1: Mental Health

This workshop was organised and moderated by Natalie Schürmann, Founder, Occupational Psychologist, Coach, Facilitator & Speaker – Mental & Emotional Well-being at Badiliko Ltd. The digital transformation we are living through is not only affecting our work environment but our home, family,  social life and well-being. Whether leaders, managers or employees we  require a new set of skills,mindset and ways to communicate to embrace and  navigate our new way of working. Keeping a healthy and balanced mental well-being will need increased attention from organisations and society. This workshop will provide some insights into the new model of ‘hybrid work place’ as well as of the related challenges and opportunities when it comes to managing mental health at work for people managers, leaders, and other key stakeholders involved in shaping the new digital work reality. The session was an opportunity to get an overview of some latest trends on mental health and digitalisation, some thoughts on how to address these and provide a platform to share amongst peers how this experience is affecting the personal way to manage and work.

Workshop 2: Technology

This workshop examines innovative technological developments for services for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. It was moderated by Marie Dubost. It looked at the potential virtual reality/augmented reality/artificial intelligence have to improve the learning and the quality of life of people with disabilities by helping them to expand their knowledge, attitudes and skills and also to overcome physical limitations through virtual environments and creating safe spaces to help learners with communication challenges. Speakers confirmed here were Prof. Mario Covarrubias, Assistant Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Polytechnical Institute Milan, Italy, and Lieven Bossuyt, Head of Lichtwerk at Lichtwerk, Belgium.

Colleagues at the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Politecnico di Milano are doing research on the use of virtual and augmented reality techniques and technologies to support product development processes and are also interested in their use “on the ground” as well as in “inclusive design”. Prof. Covarrubias’ focus is on haptic and multimodal and multisensory technologies and on the design and assessment of multi-modal devices for neuro- and tele-rehabilitation. Lichtwerk supports enterprises and training centres with the implementation of smart assistive production technology such as Light Guide Systems™️ and cobots by providing advice, infrastructure and training.

Workshop 3: Skills

The workshop was opened with an employers angle, supported by Alina Pavičevać, Policy Officer, Social Employers and a representative of one of their national members, Mathieu de Poorter, UNIPSO. In 2019 the Social Employers agreed the Position Paper on Digitalisation in the Social Services Sector with the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU). It covered different facets of digitalisation in social services and how they can be best addressed by the sectoral social partners from the local up to the European level. The relevance of the topic only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic and its challenges for the provision of social services, their organisation, the qualifications for the workforce, the availability of the digital infrastructure, questions in relation to data security and data protection, but also to the involvement of the workers in the decision making processes and the implementation of digital tools. Most of these aspects, in particular those dealing with qualifications, digital skills and infrastructure and work organisation are also highly relevant for service providers, for the management in the role as employers, for those employed there as part of the workforce. The Position Paper and recent activities of the EU-level social partners in the field of social services were presented, underpinned by a practical case from Belgium on how employers, trade unions and the workforce can work towards negotiated solutions to effectively address the challenges brought by the digital transformation.

We had planned to have as closing speaker Dr. Esther Murphy, Technology and Innovation Lead, Trinity Center for Ageing and Intellectual Disabilities, Trinity College, Dublin. She has been involved in research projects focusing on digital inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities, such as “Digi-ID”on the co-creation of accessible digital skills education with and for people with intellectual disabilities. She also is interested in digital inclusion, person centred engagement with technology to enhance social & health outcomes, social inclusion and person-centred planning or mental health & well being and inclusive education. Esther Murphy had planned to team up with an expert by experience. She, however, unfortunately had to recently cancel her participation. 

Closing session

This session started with short presentations of projects relating to digital transformation, including from EPR members, with a time of Q&A for mutual learning.

It was followed by a panel discussion on “How can digitalisation support quality services?” Speakers confirmed are Pablo Gómez, Executive Manager, Fundación INTRAS, Alfonso Lara-Montero, Chief Executive, European Social Network (ESN), Alejandro Moledo, Policy Coordinator on accessibility for persons with disabilities in ICT and assistive technologies, European Disability Forum (EDF), and  Inmaculada Placencia Porrero, Senior Social Policy Expert, Unit D.3 “Disability and Inclusion, DG EMPL (EC).

The conference featured an intervention by Jessy James LaFleur – Spoken Word Artist, but also rapper, activist, workshop host and entrepreneur.

It ended with a conference quiz and closing reflections.

Practical Information


The event was organised on zoom. Registered participants received the link to join the different sessions some days prior to the event.


We offered interpretation from English into French, German and Spanish for the Plenary Sessions and for one of the parallel workshops in the afternoon of day 1, for both rounds, to be allocated depending on interpretation needs indicated in the registration forms.


We had captioning in English for the Plenary Session and for one of the parallel workshops in the afternoon on day 1, for both rounds.


Organisations in: France, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, UK, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Malta, Ireland, Austria, Czechia, Slovenia, Estonia, Iceland
EPR members 50€ per person, 140€ for three to five persons, 170€ for six and above
Non-members 70€ per person
Organisations in: Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, Greece
EPR members 40€ per person, 110€ for three to five persons, 140€ for six and above
Non-members 55€ per person
Organisations in: including BG, TR, RS, ME, RS, MIK, AL, BA (and other countries with a GDP which is below 60% of EU average)
Non-members 40€ per person

If the fee poses a problem to participation, please get in touch with the EPR team.


To register, click link below



Session 1

Liora Gross: Digital is a People Business: Learning from Digital Transformation under COVID
Prof. Dr. Andreas Schleicher: Technological developments shaping the digitalisation of learning, teaching and training: Opportunities and challenges for social services
Virginia Carcedo: Changing organisations: Fundación ONCE and our plan as an organisation with above average growth and diversity

Session 2

Lieven Bossuyt: Technological transformation
Alina Pavičevać: Digital skills transformation
Mathieu de Poorter: Digital skills transformation

Session 3

Project 1: Michael Backhaus, Mariaberg e.V. (Germany)
Project 2: Simon Brown, Sightsavers (Kenya)
Project 3: Jesica Rivero, Fundación ONCE & Inserta (Spain)
Project 4:  Joe Cullen, Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, (United Kingdom)
Project 5: Henriette Hansen, South Denmark European Office (Denmark)

Jessy JamesLaFleur (Spoken Word Artists): Everyone Welcome

Contact person

Mathias Maucher, EPR Senior Project and Programme Officer, mmaucher@epr.eu or Laura Jones, Secretary General, ljones@epr.eu