By Ciara Evans
I represent Europe on the Council of Inclusion International. Inclusion International is a worldwide organisation that advocates for the human rights of people who have an intellectual disability.
On the council, there are self advocates and supporters. A self advocate is a person with an intellectual (learning) disability who speaks up for themselves and for others.
We were at the conference from Tuesday 23 October to Sunday 28 October.
Tuesday – arriving in Washington!
On Tuesday morning, my colleague Marsh and I met in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, ready to fly to Washington DC! Our plane took off on time and we arrived in the afternoon. Later in the afternoon, Marsh and I went for a walk around the city. We walked around the outside of the White House and the National
Mall area. We then walked towards the Washington Memorial, the reflecting pool and the Lincoln Memorial. On our way back to the hotel, we saw three helicopters fly overhead in the sky and one of them landed on the White House lawn. We asked a policeman if Barack Obama was in the helicopter and he said yes. It was really
exciting as we were about 500 yards away!
Wednesday – the first council meeting
On Wednesday, Marsh and I attended the Inclusion International Council meeting. We talked about the membership report and the officers’ reports.
We talked about the Self Advocacy Committee Report. This report talked about the work that our council members with an intellectual disability have been doing over the last year to promote self advocacy.
We also talked about the 2014 Inclusion International World Congress Conference that will take place in Kenya.
A lady from Inclusion Africa told us about some of the things that will happen there. The other item we talked about was nominations for new council members.
Thursday – the main conference
On Thursday morning, Marsh and I registered for the main conference. We attended the Self Advocates pre-Conference Day meeting. The meeting was hosted by Inclusion International and The Arc’s National Council of Self Advocates.
The ARC is the largest organisation advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in the United States of America.
The meeting was co-presented by David Corner, who is a self advocate from New Zealand. He is on the council of Inclusion International and represents the Asia Pacific Region. Our Self Advocacy Committee Group presented a presentation on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and what it is about.
At the pre-conference day, there were presentations from self advocates from all over the world.
I met some self advocates from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Africa and Nepal. I also met a very inspiring self advocate called Marisa who lives in Virginia, USA.
She works for The ARC. Marisa has been helping to shut down institutions in her area that are still open. Four of out of five of the institutions are now shut, which is very good news! During the meeting, I also heard talks from other really inspiring self advocates.
Later in the afternoon, we went to the opening session of the conference. At the start of the session, three American soldiers marched in with the American flag and we all stood while the national anthem of the USA was played. One of the speakers was the Mayor of Washington DC, Vincent Gray, who welcomed us all to the city.
The Right to Live and Be Included In The Community
During the session, the report on Article 19 was launched. This is about The Right to Live and Be Included In The Community. I thought this was the most important part of the conference.
Some of the findings from the report are:
- People with an intellectual disability don’t have the chance to decide where they live and who they live with.
- Institutions deprive people of their rights.
- Families receive little or no support to help care for a person with an intellectual (learning) disability.
Even when people with an intellectual (learning) disability live in the community, they are often isolated. At our council meeting in Nepal last year, we did interviews with other self advocates and we
filmed them on a video camera. These were then used as part of the research for the report.
In my experience, I think these findings are true. In England, we still need to improve things for people with a learning disability. Mencap agrees with me and this is what they are going to do:
Mencap are going to publish a report on housing in England. Mencap understands that we have come a long way in supporting people to live independently, but we still have a long way to go.
The report is expected to show that still too many people with a learning disability are not getting a chance to live independently.
I am looking forward to seeing the report to see what it says and whether things I heard about at the conference are the same.
Letting our hair down at a red carpet event!
We all walked down a red carpet while our photos were being taken. We were given either a coloured feather boa, sunglasses or a glittery tie to wear while we were walking down the carpet.
At the end of the carpet, there was a man acting like a reporter giving us the star treatment. When it got to my turn, I gave him a surprise and I sang a little bit of Somewhere Over The Rainbow!
During the film festival, we watched some fantastic short films featuring people with an intellectual (learning) disability. They really helped to showcase the talents of people with an intellectual (learning) disability.
I stayed up late and went for a few drinks with some of the other people from the conference. It was nice to get to know them. We let our hairdown after a busy day!
Friday – challenging attitudes
During Friday morning, I went to ‘the Market Place’. There were lots of stands promoting different services for people with an intellectual (learning) disability. Marsh and I walked around the stands and talked to people.
I helped out at our Inclusion International stand. I told people about the work that Inclusion International do.
Later in the morning, I went to some of the presentation sessions, which were really good. I went to a session that was just for self advocates. It was hosted by Tom Shakespeare, who works for the World Health Organisation. He talked about the World Report on Disability and about forced sterilisation.
Sterilisation is an operation that stops a person having children. Sometimes people with an intellectual (learning) disability are forced to have this type of operation. People were passionate about the issue and spoke up about it. Nearly everyone thought that forced sterilisation was a bad idea.
The next session I went to was about supporting parents who have an intellectual (learning) disability. There were speakers talking about issues that parents with an intellectual (learning) disability had faced.
Donna and Ricardo’s Story
At the session, there was a couple called Donna and Ricardo Thornton, who both have an intellectual (learning) disability. They told their story to the audience. It was really inspiring to hear.
This is their story:
Donna and Ricardo met when they were both living in an institution (large care home) in the United States of America. They became good friends. After a while, their friendship then turned into a relationship. A few years later, they decided to get engaged and get married as they wanted to be together.
They then faced a lot of discrimination from professionals about their decision. Ricardo and Donna fought the discrimination they faced and proved to everyone that they were in love and that they were happy.
A couple of years later, they finally got married. Since then they have also had a child of their own.
Personally to me, their story was really inspiring to listen to as I am getting married soon.
Saturday – my presentation
During Saturday afternoon, I was on the speakers’ panel for a presentation session called Life after School – Transitioning from School to Work.
My presentation was about how people with an intellectual (learning) disability should get good support at work from their colleagues, and about my experiences of having a job and working for Mencap.
I was really pleased with how it had gone and I felt confident. A couple of people came up to me afterwards and said that they liked my presentation.
After my presentation session, Marsh and I went to the closing plenary session. Towards the end of the session, I went up on to the stage with a self advocate called Kevin Smith, who is from a self advocacy group called People First of West Virginia.
We both talked about some of the highlights from the conference, and introduced a video that was made up of highlights from the conference.
At the end of the session, Klaus Lachwitz who is the President of Inclusion International, closed the conference and invited everyone to take part in the closing event.
Rock The Night Away! It was hosted by a professional dance group. We all got dressed up and danced until the early hours of the morning!
Sunday – coming back to the UK
During Sunday, I attended the General Assembly meeting and the second council meeting.
On Sunday evening, we left the hotel and travelled back to the airport. We were all a bit nervous because Hurricane Sandy was going to hit the East Coast of America and we weren’t sure whether our flight was going to go! But we were very lucky and our flight took off without a hitch.
Looking back, the conference was fantastic.
It was great to meet so many passionate people and hear about the lives of people with learning disability all over the world.