By David Corner, Inclusion International’s Regional Representative for Asia Pacific and National Self-advocacy Adviser at IHC.
The Conference was held from the 4th to the 6th of February in Geelong, Australia and this year’s Conference Theme was Having A Say Forever.
The Having A Say Conference has been running for 20 years and this year around 900 people attended.
We were welcomed to the conference by Professor Jane den Hollander who is a Vice Chancellor at Deakin University.
We were welcomed to Geelong by Bruce Harwood who is the Mayor of Geelong. He said that he has looked forward to Geelong hosting the Having a Say conference for a long time.
Sue Swenson, the President of Inclusion International, presented Inclusion International and discussed the Calls to Action and Empower Us programme and said it was great to see so many people coming together to have their say.
Arthur Rogers who is the Victorian Disability Services Commissioner came and spoke at the Conference.
Graeme Head, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Quality and Safeguards Commissioner, was very happy to answer people’s questions.
Scott McNaughton who is the General Manager Government Division for the National Disability Insurance Scheme came to speak to us.
There was a Family Empowerment Award given out to a family member who has advocated for their sibling and supported them to speak up.
The Pentland Banfield Award was named after Doug Pentland and David Banfield who were members of Reinforce (the first self advocacy group in Victoria). This award was given to Arron and Mark James who worked with Journalist Rachael Brown on a police investigation.
Robert Martin presented the Robert Martin Award to the Our Voice Committee who are people with an intellectual disability representing each of the states in Australia and are part of their state self advocacy groups and are on the board of Inclusion Australia.
We also were shown some videos that Valid (the Victorian Advocacy League for People with Intellectual Disability) have made about saying no to abuse and encouraging people to speak up about it.
The messages from the people speaking on the videos were clear powerful statements.
Judy Huett and Heather Forsyth gave a presentation about the Inclusion International World Congress that they both attended in Birmingham last year.
I attended the Empower Us Calls to Action session where each of Our Voice committee members read out the Calls to Action and then they showed the video from Birmingham where people were reading out strong and clear messages for the Calls to Action. People went to different areas of the room and made their statements and had their photos taken with their statements. There were some very clear and strong statements that people had the opportunity to read out.
I attended a session that was run by gen U where their leadership group had developed a presentation session to inform senior students at special school about future options after leaving school.
I also attended a session where a group talked about their own achievement stories with the National Disability Insurance Scheme and how coming to the Having a Say conferences has helped them to become more confident at speaking up in their lives to advocate for change.
I went to a session where people were sharing their experiences about how they learnt to speak up and how they learnt from each other. We split up into groups and were given a roleplay to do about speaking out.
I then went to a session on Having a Say through Voting where people talked about a research project that had been done in Victoria with people with an intellectual disability where they came up with ideas on how to support people with an intellectual disability to be able to vote at their state elections. I found this really interesting as we have worked with the electoral commission to develop our own resources.
Next I went to a session on Having a Say about Human Rights, run by the New South Wales Council on Intellectual Disability. They talked about what human rights are and how you can speak up and have your say. Australia will be reporting to the United Nations about how they are doing following the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. We then split up in to small groups and talked about how we felt when we had our human rights respected and how we felt when our human rights were not respected.
Judy Heather and I presented an Empower Us: What is Good Support work session.
Deakin University sponsored 5 people from Fiji and Samoa so they were able to come and attend the Having a Say conference for the first time.
It was really nice to see Robert Martin and Penelope Banfield, the People First New Zealand National President, with Janet Doughty who was supporting them both.