I am Luis Gabriel Villarreal. I am a regional representative on the council of Inclusion International. I am a self-advocate from Bogota Colombia and I work with Asdown Colombia.

In June, we had the honour and opportunity to attend and participate in the 15th Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which takes place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. I travelled with my colleagues from Asdown to New York.

It was a very exciting trip for us because it was the first time we would see each other after three years. We were very excited to share our work called Listen Include Respect with organizations during the week. Listen Include Respect is our work with Down Syndrome International to create some global guidelines on how people with intellectual disabilities should be included and take part in the work of organizations.

Friday, June 10th, 2022

Listen, Include and Respect Guidelines workshop with the United Nations Agencies

Ailis, Nathan from Down Syndrome International and I explain the process of creating the Listen Include Respect Guidelines and the barriers and challenges we face to inclusion. We talked about what inclusion means when working with organisations and the importance of support and accessible information.

We gave the group an early look at the Listen Include Respect easy-to-read Guidelines website.

Members from the UNESCO, the UNPRPD, UN Women and UNICEF participated during the workshop, with some people joining in-person. 

Sunday, June 12th, 2022

Civil Society Meeting at the International Disability Alliance Office

Members from the different international organizations of people with disabilities that are part of the International Disability Alliance gathered to talk and meet each other after a two-year absence, and discuss in preparation for the Conference of State Parties General Assembly and different side events. 

Monday, June 13th, 2022

Civil Society Meeting

We had the chance to attend the Virtual Civil Society Meeting. At the meeting members from different international organizations discussed issues such as:

  • the achievements and challenges for inclusion and the implementation of the CRPD,
  • the needs and priorities that many organizations have to fulfil,
  • the effects of the pandemic and the climate change,
  • the participation of people with intellectual disabilities in the community spaces and their safety and protection,
  • technologies and digital support
  • access to inclusive education and employment,
  • social participation of people with disabilities,
  • sexual and reproductive rights, women and girls with intellectual disabilities, etc.

Listen Include Respect Guidelines workshop with Human Rights Watch, CBM, Women Enabled, Down Syndrome Australia

With the participation of Bryan Russell, from Perú and several members from Human Rights Watch, CBM, Women Enabled and Down Syndrome Australia, we shared information about the Listen Include Respect Guidelines, from Inclusion International and Down Syndrome International.

We gave some details about the translation and the items on the website, where the Guidelines can be found.

Later, Bryan talked to us about his experience on political participation, his work with CONFE Mexico along with several political movements in Perú and México, and we shared our Empower Us work with him. 

Later in the evening, we had a delicious reception at the Royalton, attending a special reception held by Inclusion International and Inclusion Canada to support a key member to be elected for the CRPD Committee.

Tuesday, June 14th, 2022

First day at the COSP

Listen Include Respect Guidelines Side Event

In the morning, Inclusion and Down Syndrome International held the Listen Include Respect Side Event to Launch of the Guidelines.

Self-advocates from around the world led the session, including Chaica from UAE, Shiva from Nepal, Domi from Argentina, Kayla and Tia from the USA, Eli from Romania and Mark from Malawi. You can watch the side event here.

We talked about the origin of the guidelines, the information from the consultations work, how to use the guidelines.

We talked about the barriers and challenges we find during Conference of State Parties activities and our recommendations to improve and make it more accessible; from the registration forms to the side events’ presentations. We talked about how to facilitate sessions, how to provide guidance, and most importantly, how to make our participation valuable.

Today Is the First Official Day of the 15th Conference of State Parties. 

During the Opening Debate, the General Assembly President, the UN General Secretary, the Chair of the CRPD Committee, Gerard Quinn (Special Rapporteur on Disability), María Soledad Reyes (Special Delegate on Disability), Civil Society organization members, gave compelling statements on the challenges that people with disabilities face and their involvement on important issues.

The Election for the Representatives for the CRPD Committee is held to choose new members to represent the CRPD Committee.

Listen Include Respect Guidelines workshop with the World Bank Members

We gave a Listen Include Respect meeting about the Guidelines to the World Bank and how they can facilitate and allow our participation to be more accessible and inclusive. We explained to them the way the guidelines work, and their implementation for more participative work.

Side events

Among the side events held at the United Nations Head Quarters, there was a side event about the United Nations Disability Strategy, which is about making the whole United Nations system more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. I made an intervention about the importance of using the Listen Include Respect guidelines to make sure people with intellectual disabilities are not left behind.

Another side event was about disability perspective on support care systems. My colleague Camila talked about her experience as a woman with an intellectual disability, her support from her family and her work in activism and self-advocacy from Asdown Colombia.

In the afternoon in the General Assembly, members from the several international delegations and organizations spoke about the advantages, challenges and work focused on the inclusion and participation of people with intellectual disabilities, and the promotion and protection of their rights (The CRPD). 

Wednesday, June 15th, 2022

Second day at the Conference of State Parties

Roundtable on innovation and accessible technologies 

Today, at the Conference Room 4 we attended the accessible technologies meeting, in which the members from the several international organizations and special delegates discussed overcoming communicative barriers, accessibility, educational methods, platforms, free access to learning and training, guidelines for people with intellectual disabilities, technological and digital skill programs, cultural initiatives, digital opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic, productivity and equality opportunities, the post-pandemic recovery process.

We had the chance to let the members and delegates know the Listen Include Respect Guidelines. 

Side events

There was a meeting about the role of sport and cultural life in building inclusive and participatory societies for persons with disabilities in the post – COVID context. Representatives and delegates gave statements and reports on the work of including and integrating young people with intellectual disabilities in the society’s sport and art activities open spaces. With the artistic programs, like theatre companies, and sport initiative programs (sports, leisure curses, good practices), people with disabilities can fulfil their potential, and achieve a better quality of life.

I was disappointed that they did not speak about people with intellectual disabilities in a very inclusive or human rights way. I made an intervention to share the Listen Include Respect guidelines and also remind participants that people with intellectual disabilities are not sick and do not need ‘curing’.

Meetings on Listen Include Respect

A short meeting with Harriet from FCDO in the UK about the Listen Include Respect Guidelines, where we talked about how they can help people with intellectual disabilities learn and engage with our work. And we finish our work with María Ignacia, who works with a Chilean organisation and hand in hand with Zero Project, with whom we share our work as self-advocates in Latin America, and the efforts to make our network grow and strengthen. 

My feelings about the Conference of State Parties

What I liked about Conference of State Parties: It was really exciting and emotionally incredible to see us each other after three years of absence due to the COVID-19. It was a great learning and informative experience.

What I didn’t like: It was really strange that the event had a few in-person events. Also, some sessions were long and, sometimes, hard to follow, because of some technical references. The organisers of Conference of State Parties haven’t taken on board the accessibility needs of people with intellectual disabilities.

It was incredible to see how organizations all around the world are working for the inclusion of people with disabilities and there are many opportunities and supports to make it possible, even during and after the pandemic.

We believe that the Listen Include Respect guidelines, and our participation as self-advocates can help the United Nations to make sure there is a greater contribution to its work by people with intellectual disabilities. This will help to make sure the voices of people with intellectual disabilities are heard and our rights are real.