Self-advocate Sara Pickard reports on the Inclusion Europe ‘Hear Our Voices’ Conference

The Conference I went to was:

The European conference of self-advocates, which took place between the 5th to the 7th December 2017 in Brussels, the title of it was Hear Our Voices! Strong Loud and Clear.

The Conference was about:

Hearing the voices of self-advocates from all around Europe and from different countries around the world.  Holding workshops in order to bring home the importance of self-advocacy whoever you are and wherever you are from.

There were 5 workshops led by self-advocates:

Group 1 leader Elisabeta Moldovan from Romania talked about the importance of having a circle of support, a network that will help you to achieve your goals.

Group 2 leader László Bercse from Hungary talked about the importance of being included. Not only in your family but also in your local community and at national level.

Group 3 leader Andreas Zehetner from Austra talked about his experience of being a board member of his organization. He shared his ideas about how self-advocates can be involved at the decision-making level and why is this important.

Group 4 leader Senada Halilčević from Croatia talked about her experience of setting up a self-advocacy group.

Group 5 leader Harry Roche from the UK let us know about the importance of the right to vote. He also talked about what the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities says about this.

We had a session learning about the 4th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities which we attended at the European Parliament building on the 6th December.

There were over 800 people there, 200 of whom had a learning disability. Among the self-advocates who spoke, we heard from Harry Roche who is a member of the EPSA steering group and is also on the board of Inclusion Europe. He spoke about the political participation of people with disabilities in politics. He mentioned me, and Mayor Gavin Harding as being elected politicians with a learning disability.

Other speakers talked about the importance of voting and of having accessible information as well as encouraging more people with disabilities to be involved in politics.

The overall message was ‘Nothing about us without us’.

My individual role at the Conference was:

I was a speaker on the last day of the conference as the European representative for Inclusion International, as well as a member of the leadership team of Empower Us.

My role was also to tell other self-advocates how they could be involved in our Empower Us work and how to join our action team and to encourage them to attend the World Congress in Birmingham in May 2018.

I also led the Learn Share Commit session, where people shared what they had learnt over the few days and what they would commit to do after the conference ended.

Some of the people I met were: 

I re- connected with the Empower Us team and other self-advocates that I already knew.

I also met with other self-advocates who I got to know during the conference, including Jean-Baptiste Briol, from Nous Aussi,  France, Andreas Zehetner from Leibenshilfe, Austria, Eileen Dunne from Down’s Syndrome Ireland, Enrico Delle Serre from Anffas, Italy, László Bercse from EFOESZ, Hungary. I also arranged a meeting with Jill Evans MEP (Plaid Cymru MEP for Wales) before we left home.

It was good to learn more about the situation for people with learning disabilities in their countries and the work they were doing to improve things. We very much hope that we will now work more closely with them in the future.

Jill Evans MEP intends to include information about our work in articles she is writing and will publicise the World Congress for us.

Some of the important messages I heard were:

From the day at the European Parliament I learnt:

  • Europe, as a region, still has a lot to do to become accessible.
  • Learning the importance for people with intellectual disabilities to work, to vote, to have access to public places, to participate politically and also to access information.

From the workshop I took part in…

  • The importance of having friends who you trust.
  • Friends need us, as much as we need them.

From the conference and from the workshop I led…

  • The need for inclusive education
  • The need for more self-advocates to be part of society and Government
  • Making your voices heard
  • Self-advocates can put together statements which can be taken to our Governments
  • Share the information on the CRPD
  • We are stronger together
  • Politicians need to have a day in our shoes (spending a day living like us.)
  • We are the experts
  • Politicians should listen to us, and not use up our speaking time!
  • Nothing about us, without us !

Thanks to all at Inclusion Europe for giving us this great opportunity and it was great to be able to bring together the Empower Us team face-to-face for the first time since Florida!